Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Chinese Baseball

Despite my last name (Louis) I can assure you that I am 100% of Chinese ancestry.

I knew China wanted to field a baseball team for the '08 Olympics so they asked MLB for help. MLB, always wanting to expand their international markets, happily obliged.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com recently wrote an article about Chinese baseball. (insider content, registration required) And it's a pretty good read. Out of a nation of 1.3 billion, it's plausible that you can get enough talent to field a good team, if the instruction and coaching were there.

This really got me thinking about the history of Chinese Baseball, something that I am somwhat familiar with.

Chinese people are not alien to baseball and the origins of Chinese Baseball are quite similar to the origins of Japanese Baseball, American missionaries and educators spread the game in China in the late 1800's. In fact a team of Chinese students, waiting to be transported back to China accepted a challenge from a baseball team in Oakland and beat them, this was in the 1880's.

American educated Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the "George Washington" of Modern China, organized baseball leagues in southern China. It was a front to train guerrilla fighters against the Manchu Dynasty, he believed that if one could throw a baseball well, one could also throw a grenade well.

Babe Ruth and a bunch of MLB all-stars even made a stop in Shanghai when they barnstormed Asia in the 1930's.

In 1932, after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, a game between the Oakland Oaks and the Sacramento Senators of the old Pacific Coast League was dubbed the "Sino-Japanese War" as a promotional gimmick. The starting pitchers that day were Chinese and Japanese, respectively. Ironically both pitchers Lee Gum Hong and Kenso Nushida were American born.

China has a baseball history as rich and colorful as that of Japan, but why is Chinese baseball relatively unknown nowadays? Simple, Chairman Mao outlawed baseball during the Cultural Revolution as a "capitalist" sport. In fact most team sports were outlawed except for soccer and basketball.

Basketball always thrived in China, that's why we have Yao Ming making big bucks for the NBA in China.

China is playing catch up in baseball, it even has a pro-league nowadays that's probably equivalent to Rookie-league or low-A ball. Crasnick wrote a little bit about it:

Progress comes with a heightened profile. Games in the professional Chinese Baseball League now air regularly on television, and elderly gentlemen come to the park carrying old gloves and talking wistfully about the 1920s and '30s, long before Mao's ban. Some of the old-timers can recall the most celebrated game ever in China, when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were part of a barnstorming trip to Shanghai in 1934.

The old guys bring a tear to my eye. Those old guys probably would have been persecuted pretty badly by the Red Guards for keeping their mitts and balls, but they kept them anyways. That's a true love of baseball. Yes, I am a fan of pang-kow.


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