Taiwan set to strike baseball ‘mafia’ as fans sulk
Taiwan’s flagship sport is unravelling like an old rotted baseball, a university graduate said, reflecting the public mood of the moment, as she and I waited at a news conference for the cabinet spokesman to emerge with an official response to an illegal betting scandal.
The case, far from over, has put six people in jail and pointed fingers at eight more, including two of the island’s best known pitchers, since it was announced in the final days of October after months of investigation.
Taiwan, population 23 million, wants to be an international player, rivalling South Korea and Japan in Asian baseball. Then from 2008 it lost twice to baseball upstart and political rival China, prompting calls for reform. As part of a broader baseball reform package, the government pledged to stamp out illegal gambling rings that pay players to throw impossible pitches or drop easy fly balls to make bets come true as the Chicago White Sox players did in 1919.
As the anti-gambling campaign got underway, a massive mafia-driven betting scheme unfolded throughout the Chinese Professional Baseball League (www.cpbl.com.tw) summer season, a local prosecutor said. Among the eight suspects are former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tsao Chin-hui, a household name among Taiwan fans, and former Chinese Taipei (effectively a national team) pitcher Chang Chih-chia.
Fans stunned by nonstop broadcasts of the latest betting scandal and put off by the losses to China have turned to televised U.S. major league games, killing off the local league’s TV viewership. Basketball is on the rise among younger folk who haven’t picked a favoured sport.
“Some fans might even start watching amateur baseball,” said Yu Jun-wei, author and assistant professor at a Taiwan sports university. “This case could have a huge impact on the whole professional league.”
The college grad waxed on about the Red Leaf Junior Baseball Team, legendary for beating a Japanese rival in 1968 and giving the sport’s first big boost in Taiwan. Glory days that are gone for how long?
Cabinet spokesman Su Jun-pin said they’d come back as the government begins to strike at the dark heart of the “black channel,” a literal translation of the Chinese term for mafia. “It’s not just about players. What’s important is that if we can’t strike the leaders, the origin of the problem can’t be exhausted,” Su told the news conference.