Friday, January 25, 2008

This is a story that shouldn't be happening

  • For the record, LA Times story:
"Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the MLB Players Assn., was more blunt on the subject of Asian physique. "Chinese people love ballet. You'll see a lot of ballet in baseball. Chinese people love intricacy. You'll see a lot of intricacy in baseball. I think the sport blends very nicely with the things that the Chinese love and treasure in their culture."
  • Americans have been trying to sell the Chinese on the beauty of baseball for decades. In 1986, former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley oversaw the building of a baseball stadium in the coastal city of Tianjin, 75 miles southeast of Beijing. Former Dodger Jim Lefebvre was sent to China in 2003 to manage the Chinese national team, which enjoyed its first success in 2005, beating South Korea at the Asian qualifier for the World Cup of Baseball in Japan.
But the Chinese Baseball League, which was established in 2003, has had a slow start. The original American promoter pulled out, turning the league over to a Japanese company. The six teams in the league routinely play in empty stadiums.
  • "Baseball is a tough sell here," said Zhou Zuyi, a sportswriter from Shanghai, who says he has covered many games from empty stands. "Imagine nobody watching while the best of China's players are out there. . . . People in this country just don't have an understanding of baseball."
Baseball has been more successful in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, all of which have sent players to the major leagues.
  • But the situation has been complicated in China by an unfortunate stigma it acquired as a counterrevolutionary sport.
The first baseball games on Chinese soil were played in the 19th century by students returning from American universities. Missionaries also helped to organize teams. Later, the Communists turned against baseball. While soldiers in the Peoples' Liberation Army were encouraged to play basketball for exercise,
  • baseball was banned entirely when the Cultural Revolution started in the 1960s. Mao himself is said to have derided it as an "evil Western influence.""

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