Today is Opening Day, and the Cubs are in first place, so all is well with the world. I just got a copy of Yu Junwei’s Playing in Isolation: A History of Baseball In Taiwan. 1 The book is not all that analytical. It is also a little inside baseball for some people (Yu assumes you know what the Mendoza Line is.)
The book is, however, a lot of fun, especially for those who like both Chinese history and baseball. It confirmed what I had already thought, that while baseball is a world game (take that IOC), it actually spread in Asia as a Japanese game (just as it was mostly a Cuban game in the Caribbean basin.) A lot of the book is just a narrative of postwar baseball, which is interesting enough, but I found the stuff about the cultural politics of baseball in Colonial Taiwan most interesting. It was of course the Japanese who first brought baseball to Taiwan, but Taiwanese (both Han and aboriginal) picked up on it, leading to the Jiayi Agricultural and Forestry Institute’s “tri-racial” team placing second in the all-important Japanese high school championships in 1931. Needless to say baseball was not very popular with the mainlanders who took over Taiwan after 1945. They preferred soccer and basketball, which explains why everyone I played pick-up hoops with in Taiwan spoke such good Mandarin.2 Chiang Kai-shek used basketball to tie Taiwan to the Overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia. Well into the 1960s Taiwanese baseball teams made their names defeating Japanese teams. It was not until the 1970s that winning in Willamsport became a national obsession, bringing all the problems you would expect from people taking youth sport too seriously.