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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Can Major League Baseball bring China into the big leagues?

...baseball’s peculiar qualities are sold as native virtues. “I mean, talk about Confucianism,” says Jim Small, the director of Major League Baseball for all of Asia, and Xie’s boss, rattling off parallels between China’s ethical philosophy and the American game that inspired nickel-beer night and dugout-dancing mascots. “There’s no clock, you sacrifice yourself for the team, everything is in threes ...” At the same time, in conversations with Chinese officials, the game is spun as a geopolitical weapon: a way for the competition-mad nation to top its regional rivals, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, where baseball has flourished for decades.

madvillain Posted: April 16, 2013 at 01:37 AM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mlb

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   1. RollingWave Posted: April 16, 2013 at 05:25 AM (#4415410)
/facepalm , really? Confucian analogy?

The thing with China is that American influence was slow to get to them (and obviously baseball don't have much presence from the Russian / European influence), there's very little baseball until quite recently.

Unless they can convince the Chinese central government to go all out on baseball, there's little chance of it gaining much traction any time soon, but I think at this point they're pretty committed to Basketball / Football, side from the other personal sports where they are increasingly awesome at. (those 1-2 person ball sports or volley ball.) and even gaining in track and field.

From a practical POV, there's a better chance for China to be good at baseball than basketball. But I don't see it.
   2. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: April 16, 2013 at 07:54 AM (#4415420)
Agree.

RollingWave knows considerably more about Chinese culture than I do, but my impression is that in China, things are very rigidly done in a top-down style. It's difficult/impossible to build something like baseball at the grassroots level - if you want to build Chinese baseball, you really have to convince the Party that your plan has merit, and then they'll implement it. Or not.

My dad spent a few months after retirement freelancing for a Chinese manufacturing company without knowing this aspect of the culture. He'd see something that could be changed to increase quality and save money, point out to his immediate supervisor that it could be changed, and then nothing would happen. Drove him crazy, as he had worked for 30+ years in a place where it didn't really matter where ideas came from.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I've gleaned from books and people who've worked in China. Approaching a business venture in China like you'd approach it in the United States is a spectacularly terrible idea.
   3. depletion Posted: April 16, 2013 at 07:56 AM (#4415421)
“There’s no clock, you sacrifice yourself for the team, everything is in threes ...” .

Sounds like work.
At the same time, in conversations with Chinese officials, the game is spun as a geopolitical weapon: a way for the competition-mad nation to top its regional rivals, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, where baseball has flourished for decades..

I would work this angle a bit, also. While it seems like a distant goal, the payoff is so huge if baseball takes off in China that it's worth pursuing. Really we need at least one ethnic Chinese star pitcher to face off against Kuroda or another Japanese star a few times a year, then hype those games.
We could even hype the "Reds" in a grainy B&W film gloriously attacking a hill with bats and gloves in hand.
   4. Greg K Posted: April 16, 2013 at 08:02 AM (#4415424)
Probably one way to get the Chinese government to get interested in it is if the WBC eventually gains legitimacy (or baseball becomes a meaningful part of the Olympics)*.

I'm far from an expert, but it seems like China heavily supports sports which provide the opportunity to compete at high profile international events. I'm told whether or not a sport is included in the Olympics is a huge factor in terms of whether the Chinese government provides funding or support.

*Not sure how likely either of those outcomes are. But if baseball wants to expand in China that seems like a good path.
   5. Curse of the Andino Posted: April 16, 2013 at 02:38 PM (#4415848)
Baseball was big in China before Mao. Taught by the missionaries, and Japanese occupiers. Sport was too much of a sign of Western Imperial Decadence to last through the Cultural Revolution.

There were some professional teams there in the '90s/00s, but I suppose that folded. Article's kinda nonsensical, "only three diamonds in the whole country?" I think I saw that many at Fudan University...
   6. jdennis Posted: April 16, 2013 at 03:16 PM (#4415925)
if you're willing to expand to china, why not expand to those other east Asian countries with established baseball first?

heck, why not have a team in Honolulu?
   7. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 16, 2013 at 03:23 PM (#4415939)
/facepalm , really? Confucian analogy?


"And you know, baseball is a lot like Chinese food too. You watch a great game, and an hour later, you're ready for the second game of a doubleheader."


if you're willing to expand to china, why not expand to those other east Asian countries with established baseball first?

heck, why not have a team in Honolulu?


The article is about generating interest in baseball in China, and starting up leagues. Korea, Taiwan, Japan already have interest in baseball with competitive professional leagues.

Not sure what Honolulu has to do with anything other than I guess you're implying they're Asian too? There aren't many people there. There are lots of people in China.


Probably one way to get the Chinese government to get interested in it is if the WBC eventually gains legitimacy (or baseball becomes a meaningful part of the Olympics)*.


The Asian Games are a big deal, and baseball is part of that.
   8. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: April 16, 2013 at 03:31 PM (#4415953)
"And you know, baseball is a lot like Chinese food too. You watch a great game, and an hour later, you're ready for the second game of a doubleheader."
"...and baseball bats are made out of the same material as chopsticks."
   9. rfloh Posted: April 16, 2013 at 10:50 PM (#4416452)
Building support, and interest, in the grassroots is important. The Chinese gov can decide to pump money into a sport, in a systematic manner if it decides that doing so will result in international glory. That doesn't necessarily mean that that sport will gain widespreada interest. China is succesful in a range of sports. Some, such as badminton, and ping pong, are very popular. Some aren't.
   10. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: April 16, 2013 at 11:16 PM (#4416489)
Who among us hasn't squinted when trying to track a fly ball on a sunny day?
   11. RollingWave Posted: April 16, 2013 at 11:42 PM (#4416512)
My dad spent a few months after retirement freelancing for a Chinese manufacturing company without knowing this aspect of the culture. He'd see something that could be changed to increase quality and save money, point out to his immediate supervisor that it could be changed, and then nothing would happen. Drove him crazy, as he had worked for 30+ years in a place where it didn't really matter where ideas came from.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I've gleaned from books and people who've worked in China. Approaching a business venture in China like you'd approach it in the United States is a spectacularly terrible idea.


It's really still a case by case thing, there are plenty of US firms that has a lot of bullshit bureaucracy, given that Dilbert is probably one of the most popular comic strip in the last decade. Meanwhile, China is increasingly seeing a lot of start ups of various sorts, though most of them aren't the type that can hire foreigners as consultants.

In general, generally speaking big Asian firms are like what you described, Chinese once aren't quite as bad as Japanese / Korean especially if you take out those ran by the Communist Party.

Rule of law is shakier in China than in the US, though that's pretty much true for any and all developing country. and it's generally improving.

As for baseball.. yeah the Culture Revolution was a thing, but really it's just more of that since 1949 the US influence have been extremely minimal until the last 15-20 years and even now it's not exactly dominant (Euro / Russian influence is still stronger, though influence from Taiwan / Korea / Japan is the strongest and obviously they are a large deal of American influence.) and it's not true that it was a big thing before that, because you know... war kinda makes it hard for sports. and there pre 1949 China make post 2001 Afghanistan look like a super stable country.

building grass root baseball at this point in China seems impossible on it's own, China's population is very concentrated, and most of the few fields left are already committed to football, and of course, the general issue that the basic baseball investment is higher than other sports. which makes it harder for baseball to develop than other (non ice hockey) major sports to develop without some cultural background / government help.

There's some semi-pro teams in China now, but they can't get a consistent league going, they're football league haven't been doing great either anyway. at this stage of their development China's average income is still a bit too low to really get pro leagues going, though the basketball league is getting to the point of international respectability as it is now a reasonably legit choice for fringe NBA player / ex- NBA stars.


   12. JoeHova Posted: April 17, 2013 at 02:12 AM (#4416541)
I once read a book (probably Yao Ming's book with Ric Bucher) that said that the Chinese government favored basketball as a recreational activity because it is the most egalitarian of the major team sports. I thought that was interesting.
   13. RollingWave Posted: April 17, 2013 at 02:33 AM (#4416544)
That's probably bullshit and doesn't make much sense anyway, considering that it's the one sport where natural size plays the biggest role. for China , they have some advantages in basketball in that having the worlds' largest population means your also going to have the most 7 footers etc.. but general diet difference and ways training are done makes it difficult for China's basketball team to take the next step at this stage.

Another issue is that the way China pick players limits their talent pool too much, there is some merits in the "free market" approach to developing talent in team sports to be sure (as much as I frown how some in the US seem to view it in a completely irrational light), and China is making some adjustments towards that end.

   14. Ebessan Posted: April 17, 2013 at 03:04 AM (#4416548)
I once read a book (probably Yao Ming's book with Ric Bucher) that said that the Chinese government favored basketball as a recreational activity because it is the most egalitarian of the major team sports.

When I think "egalitarian", I think of Jordan or Kobe taking half of their team's shots in a game.
   15. vortex of dissipation Posted: April 17, 2013 at 03:21 AM (#4416550)
Really we need at least one ethnic Chinese star pitcher to face off against Kuroda or another Japanese star a few times a year, then hype those games.


Sacramento and Oakland actually did this in the Pacific Coast League back in 1932, with Kenso Nushida pitching for Sacramento, and Lee Gum Hong (who was actually better known as Al Bowen, but who went by his Chinese name when playing) pitching for Oakland. The pitching matchup was hyped to cash in on the Sino-Japanese war, and was promoted as such. Sacramento won the game, but the promotion was so sucessful that a rematch was held five days later, which Oakland won.

   16. Bourbon Samurai Posted: April 17, 2013 at 09:58 AM (#4416638)
Would be interesting if a Taiwanese star decided to work in China on baseball- who is the closest, Chien Ming Wang? Don't think we've had a Taiwanese player at the level of a Suzuki or Matsui.

I'm going to try take in a game in Seoul in May- I'm excited about the idea.

   17. vortex of dissipation Posted: April 17, 2013 at 10:04 AM (#4416646)
Don't think we've had a Taiwanese player at the level of a Suzuki or Matsui.


We have, in Japan. It's just that side of his heritage was downplayed while he was playing. But in his autobiography, he describes himself as "a Chinese man who was a modern Japanese".
   18. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: April 17, 2013 at 11:40 AM (#4416767)
RollingWave, did you read/like Brave Dragons? (book on pro hoops in China)

Oh's autobiography (mentioned in 17) is pretty good.
   19. Bourbon Samurai Posted: April 17, 2013 at 11:59 AM (#4416802)
I was talking more about a guy who emerges out of Taiwan. Oh was born in Japan and grew uP there.
   20. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: April 17, 2013 at 12:12 PM (#4416815)
When I think "egalitarian", I think of Jordan or Kobe taking half of their team's shots in a game.


Also something like 10% of the entire western world's population of people 7'2" or higher becoming NBA players. Meritocratic!
   21. Rennie's Tenet Posted: April 17, 2013 at 01:07 PM (#4416895)
I've wondered if a league won't arise of the biggest cities of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, with maybe some of the biggest cities in China and Manila. There's a lot of people in the Sapporo-Beijing-Manila triangle.

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