Barred From Baseball (in Taiwan)
The former first baseman for the Brother Elephants, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Yankees, now spends most of his days and nights deep in a local stadium, in a spartan room with all the charm of an old warship.
He sleeps on a thin bed. Sports gear towers above him on metal cabinets. A coffee table overflows with snacks, ashtrays and teacups.
It is the coach’s quarters, where the former player, Tsai Feng-an, directs a high school baseball program, a shoestring operation that demands long hours and pays him a fraction of his old big-league salary. It is also where Tsai, whose name was once as famous as Mattingly, would rather not be.
“The local people are surprised I put up with these conditions, which is why they support me,” Tsai said. “But I still look at my baseball career fondly, even though there were bad things.”
The bad things derive from his role in one of the biggest gambling scandals in international baseball, a scheme in which Tsai and several dozen other players in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, which is the top-tier league in Taiwan, were accused of throwing games from 2006 to 2009 in exchange for thousands of dollars from gamblers.
Orchestrating the fraud was a gangster who went by the nickname Windshield Wiper, an inside joke among his associates that referred to his quick temper. It was a colorful detail in a case that was as riveting for fans and commentators as a playoff series.
Gambling in baseball is almost as old as the game itself. In America, every fan knows about the Black Sox scandal, in which eight players threw the 1919 World Series, leading to jail terms and fines. Pete Rose is still barred by Major League Baseball because he bet on games.
赌球从一开始就伴随着棒球这项运动。在美国，所有球迷都知道黑袜丑闻(Black Sox)，当时有八名球员在1919年世界大赛(World Series)中打假球，最后被判入狱和罚款。皮特·罗斯(Pete Rose)因为下注赌球，至今被美国职业棒球大联盟(Major League Baseball)禁赛。
Gambling scandals have swept through the Asian leagues with alarming regularity, exposing deep ties between crime rings and the sport even as they strive to make an international mark.
This year, several players for the Tokyo Giants, Japan’s best-known team, were accused of consorting with gamblers. The troubles in Taiwan, however, were far larger. They almost sank the league.
Foreign players have thought twice before agreeing to play in Taiwan (at least one foreigner, a manager, was named in the scandal), and an Australian team declined to sign a Taiwanese pitcher who was linked to the scheme but not charged. (He played in the Dodgers farm system this year.) The country’s push to play host to a part of the World Baseball Classic, which is run by Major League Baseball, has slowed as well.
外国球手在同意到台湾打球之前（这项丑闻至少涉及一名总教练，他是一个外国人）会三思而行，一个澳大利亚队拒绝签下一个与这次丑闻有关但未被起诉的台湾投手（今年他在道奇队[Dodgers]的农场系统打球）。台湾一直希望承办由美国职业棒球大联盟(Major League Baseball)主办的世界棒球经典赛(World Baseball Classic)的部分赛事，这一努力如今也因之放缓。
Before the arrest in 2009 of the Windshield Wiper, whose real name is Tsai Cheng-yi, the Taiwanese league endured several other game-fixing scandals, remarkable in a league that was founded only in 1989 and has had as few as four teams. Players were kidnapped and pistol-whipped, and their families were threatened. One coach was stabbed. Gangsters were arrested and players banished. Attendance dipped, too, but within a year or two, many fans returned.
The Windshield Wiper case, however, was much bigger.
From 2006 to 2009, the Windshield Wiper and his intermediaries paid dozens of players as much as $30,000 for each game they agreed to throw. In all, more than 40 players, coaches, retired players, gangsters and politicians were implicated, including Tsai, Chen Chih-yuan and other stars.
One manager was charged and left the country. An elected political leader in southern Taiwan, Wu Chien-pao, who ran his own gambling ring and had players beaten if they did not cooperate, was jailed. The Windshield Wiper is serving a four-year sentence.
The Elephants, Tsai’s old team, were so badly damaged, they were sold.
Attendance leaguewide fell, but perked up in 2013, when Manny Ramirez, the outfielder who played his best years with the Boston Red Sox in the early 2000s, played in Taiwan.
整个联赛的上座率都出现下滑，但在2013年，因为21世纪初期曾随波士顿红袜队(Boston Red Sox)打出职业生涯最好成绩的外野手曼尼·拉米雷斯(Manny Ramirez)来台湾打球，上座率又出现回升。
The league has tried to head off future scandals by allowing law enforcement officials to attend every game. Players are lectured on the evils of gambling and subject to random investigations. The criminal penalties for gambling and fraud were increased, and a national sports lottery was created to give gamblers a legal avenue to bet on games.
“We hope the worst has passed,” John Chih-yang Wu, the league’s commissioner, said. “It’s impossible to stop the Taiwanese people from gambling, but we think we have good prevention now and the influence of the mafia has decreased.”
There have been no reported cases of game-fixing since 2009, he said.
Most players involved confessed to taking part in the scheme and avoided jail by paying fines equal to the bribes they took.
They were banished from professional baseball and, having trained most of their lives to become ballplayers, they have had trouble finding work, the shame of being implicated sending them into hiding.
But two players, Tsai and Chen, agreed to speak to The New York Times about how they have sought to redeem themselves.
They have taken different paths.
Tsai returned to rural Nantou County. Because of his banishment, he cannot wear a baseball uniform or coach a team, so he instead looks for money to keep his program afloat and to build a new stadium. He bunks with his coaches and players in a dingy dormitory where the communal dining area is next to a homemade indoor batting cage.
Tsai had spent years fighting the charges that he helped throw four games. After his initial two-year jail sentence was reduced to six months, he agreed to pay a fine of about $100,000 to settle the case. His probation, which ended in August, required that he report daily to a police station, a humiliation he found hard to do after such an illustrious career.
Friends offered him jobs at a university and a technology company, where he could have earned two to three times more than the roughly $1,000 a month he makes now. Instead, he returned to central Taiwan, where he grew up, to work with children and get back to basics.
“Most players would not be willing to do what I do now, teaching baseball in a school, because it’s a lot of work and not much money,” he said. “Even though I got a six-month sentence, I’m still pretty much a free soul.”
Chen lives a flashier life in Taipei. He runs a restaurant that serves aboriginal food like fried crickets, mountain boar and beetle nut flowers.
Thanks to his pop star wife, he is a minor television celebrity. He also produces a rice snack with a friend and donates the proceeds to baseball programs in regions where poor aboriginal children live. He tutors high school players.
But in Taiwan, where baseball is almost a national religion, neither man will regain the stature he commanded as a professional ballplayer. Each continues to proclaim his innocence, but the game-fixing scandal has been a hard stain to erase.
“I left baseball because of the scandals, and that’s not something that I can change,” Chen said at his restaurant, La Fung, or the Guest. “But I can change myself, set goals for myself. I have a wife and kids to take care of. I need to maintain a positive attitude.”
The case that was their undoing was discovered almost by accident.
A prosecutor in Taipei, Wang Cheng-hao, received an anonymous tip after the 2008 season that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being wagered on baseball games, and the Windshield Wiper was winning most of the time.
Gambling is not a crime, but fixing games is.
Wang and investigators looked at the Windshield Wiper’s bank and phone records and discovered a network of middlemen that ultimately led them to the players.
The Windshield Wiper, who was from southern Taiwan and in his late 30s at the time, was one of the biggest gamblers in the country.
He was subtler than most gangsters. Instead of laundering money through businesses that served as fronts, he had dummy accounts set up in his friends’ names. He had no prior convictions for gambling.
He was a baseball fan, though, and he liked to hang around ballparks, where he sat near the dugout and chatted up players, some of whom joined him for dinner. He also befriended former players living in southern Taiwan, whom he paid to recruit active players.
Wang collected evidence through the 2009 season to determine which players were involved. He made arrests when the season was over.
“If we arrested him during the season, it would have affected the games, but if we didn’t stop him after the season, it could affect more games,” Wang said in his office in suburban Taipei.
According to court documents, one middleman, Chuang Hung-liang, dealt specifically with star players, who at times received money in shoe boxes. Some players were motivated to take bribes because they were upset with their low salaries; others felt threatened.
After his arrest, the Windshield Wiper initially denied everything, but ultimately named about 40 people. The investigation reached back four seasons, to 2006. Some of the appeals, including Tsai’s, dragged into 2014.
A Ticket Out
Like other players from rural Taiwan, Tsai and Chen saw baseball as their ticket out of poverty.
Tsai began playing in the streets with friends with whatever equipment they could find. When he was 10, he was recruited to attend a private school with a well-known team. In 1988, Tsai was good enough to travel to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., where his team won the title by beating the team from Pearl City, Hawaii.
蔡丰安开始在街上和朋友们打球时，他们用手边可以找到的任何装备来打。10岁那年，他被一家私立学校录取，加入一个很有名的球队。1988年，蔡丰安凭借出色的球技，到宾夕法尼亚的威廉波特小联盟世界系列赛(Little League World Series)打比赛，他的球队击败来自夏威夷珍珠市的球队赢得了冠军。
When the boys returned home, they were paraded through the streets. The trip was eye-opening for the son of a bus driver and a hairdresser who rarely saw him play.
“Country folks don’t really watch baseball games,” Tsai said over noodles at a restaurant near his school. “They have loads of things to do; they’re very busy.”
Given his modest means, playing baseball was a necessity. He turned pro in 1997 and joined the Mercuries Tigers. When the club folded after the 1999 season, Tsai joined the Brother Elephants. He had a career year in 2002, hitting 21 home runs and batting .294. He played in the 2004 Olympics, where Chinese Taipei finished fifth.
“By the time I became a pro, I wouldn’t say I was happy about this,” said Tsai, rail thin and all business. “Most of the players come from poorer families, so the only thing they thought about was playing well so they would have a bargaining chip to get more money to help their families. It was a job.”
Though salaries in the Taiwanese league have increased in recent years, they are nothing like what players in Major League Baseball earn, and they are barely more than what a manager at a white-collar company might bring in.
Because they are celebrities, they are often invited to bars and restaurants, where their tabs are covered.
“Taiwanese players like to drink, and drinking is a way to relax, but once they start going out with people, that creates a lot of trouble because people know who you are and will want a lot of things from you,” he said. “Drinking would make you do stupid things.”
Prosecutors accused Tsai of throwing four games years after he stopped playing.
He was sentenced in 2011 to two years in jail and ordered to pay a fine. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to a six-month jail term, which he avoided by paying a smaller fine.
He said that in the first few years after he left baseball, at least five groups of gangsters tried to get him to help them fix games. Some, he said, offered as much as $300,000. He refused.
“If I was willing to do it, I could have done it ages ago, rather than teaching kids baseball and getting 30,000 dollars a month,” he said, referring to New Taiwan dollars. At current rates, that would be about $950 a month.
Tsai has three young children, but his days are spent with his players, with potential donors and at the construction site where a new county stadium is being built. He said he gets up at 6 a.m. and finishes work at midnight.
Budgets are tight, so broken bats and worn baseballs are patched up with tape.
He said he tells his students that pro ballplayers can earn a lot of money, but also spend a lot of it. Better, he said, to live modestly and humbly.
Unlike Tsai, who works in relative anonymity, Chen Chih-yuan lives in Taipei in plain sight. Tan and fit, he was known as the Golden Warrior on the Elephants. But while once among the highest paid players in the C.P.B.L., earning about $100,000 a year, Chen now tries to make ends meet.
Most days, he is at his restaurant. He advises a high school baseball team that his brother coaches. With a friend, he produces dried snacks called “bang bang,” which means “good bat” in English. A cartoon of Chen’s face is on the wrappers.
The profits are spent on sports equipment for poor children, he said. He is from an aboriginal village in eastern Taiwan, where he said he had no refrigerator and went barefoot as a child.
The legal troubles effectively ended his career, something he has tried to get past.
Chen is now more cautious, wary of gangsters. When he is invited to dine out, he asks who else will be there. If there is a name he does not recognize, he declines the invitation. He also tells younger players to simplify their lives, implying that he did not. After all, he was sentenced to at least a year in jail that he settled by paying a fine.
“My own story is like teaching material for other people to learn from,” he said. “The scandal is in the past and it’s bound to surface one day, so there’s no running away from it. I learned a lot, and if people don’t like it, I will do better to make them understand I’m not who they think.”