Ah, Opening Day at the ballpark. The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. The smile on the bookie’s face.
As the U.S. national pasttime kicks off another season, scandals are rocking foreign baseball leagues. Many make the beer and fried chicken brouhaha last year in the Boston Red Sox franchise look like, well, chickenfeed.
Gambling and match-fixing have long tainted baseball, and sports in general, in Asia. Now, revelations in Taiwan and Korea threaten to make baseball a joke in those countries.
Pitch or die
In Taiwan, Lu Wen-sheng, manager of last year’s champion Uni-President Lions, recently resigned his post after admitting he gave tips to mobsters. Unlike the infamous Chicago White Sox players who perpetrated the Black Sox Scandal of the 1919 World Series (depicted in the film Eight Men Out), Lu’s motivation may have been more than petty grievances. He may have feared for his life.
The Diplomat’s Cain Nunns explains why:
Mobsters have kidnapped, beat, pistol-whipped and stabbed scores of players and managers. Guns have been inserted in players’ mouths, bullets sent to their homes as warnings, and rumors abound about players being thrown off balconies or going missing after speaking with investigators. On one occasion, members of a team that failed to deliver a loss after being bribed were kidnapped from their Taichung hotel rooms, bundled into minivans and driven to a hideout, where they were repeatedly beaten until they “came round.”
The Diplomat further notes that match-fixing scandals embroiled members of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party three years ago, leading to new lottery legislation that was supposed to offer a legal alternative to the illegal betting industry, estimated at $3.4 billion. But that measure hasn’t been especially successful, adding to the climate of cynicism surrounding the game. “Ballpark attendance has plummeted by about 45 percent since 2004,” Nunns writes.
In Korea, a web of bets
In Korea, ballpark attendance is expected to attract more than 7 million fans this season, a record. But, for the first time since the establishment of the Korean Baseball Organization in 1982, a match-fixing scandal has emerged. The police arrested a bookie who confessed about his illegal betting operation, which has tarnished the game.
Recently, two pitchers were indicted on charges of fixing games for the betting operation. One pitcher, Kim Seong-hyun of the LG Twins, reportedly received kickbacks in exchange for throwing first-inning walks.
The deceit wasn’t limited to baseball, The Korea Times reported:
“A gambling middleman named Kim, arrested last year for fixing the results of football matches, said an associate identified as Kang, who was recently arrested for volleyball match fixing, rigged performance results in baseball and basketball games, too,” a prosecutor said.
The Korean Baseball Organization has apologized and required managers, coaches and players to promise not to engage in match fixing.
Crossfire in Japan
A more run-of-the-mill scandal has struck Japan. The owner of the Yomiuri Giants, which are considered the national team, allegedly paid out big signing bonuses, as much as $12.1 million, for new young players. These deals broke an agreement between the country’s twelve professional teams to limit such payouts. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper recently published news of the bonuses last month, landing a big scoop in the baseball-crazy country, The Japan Times reported.
But the owner of the Giants, Tsuneo Watanabe, also happens to own the Asahi Shimbun’s competitor, the Yomiuri Shimbun. Watanabe blasted the Asahi Shimbun, saying it was aping accusations aired by Hidetoshi Kiyotake, the Giants’ former manager, who has called Watanabe a dictator in a tell-all book about the club that was published on the day after the Asahi Shimbun published its story. Kiyotake and Watanabe are now suing each other in court.
Powerful baseball team owners, media intrigue, angry managers and dueling lawsuits? Americans know these shenanigans all too well.