Taiwanese professional baseball has been doing badly lately after going through a series of scandals in recent years. However, the wonderful performance Taiwan’s team put in during the World Baseball Classic group qualifiers in Greater Taichung last week not only gave rise to baseball fever, it also signals that baseball is making a comeback.
However, one thing that deserves closer attention is the question of whether Taiwan’s baseball environment can resist the bad influence of match-fixing and gambling. If we want to safeguard players from such temptations, good pay is a necessity.
Starting in the 2010 season, the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) adopted a free-agent system. After six years with local teams, players are allowed to move abroad and play for foreign teams, and after nine years they can become free agents, allowing them to sign with any national or foreign team to secure better pay.
This puts an end to the previous unfair system whereby clubs viewed players as their property and players had to serve a club throughout their playing career.
As a result of this change, more players are securing multi-year contracts, and more Taiwanese players based overseas are returning to play in Taiwan. If we add to this that US Major League Baseball (MLB) superstar Manny Ramirez is considering joining the CPBL, then pay is likely to increase.
The nine-year minimum period before a CPBL player can become a free agent follows Japan’s system. Compared with other professions, a baseball career is short. Statistics on Japanese baseball players show that an average playing career is nine years. This means that when most players become free agents, they are already nearing the end of their careers.
As Taiwan only has four teams and a small market, it is evident that this free-agent system is of limited benefit. Since players often lack personal representation, it is important to provide them strong backup to allows them to negotiate with clubs on an equal footing.
Players’ unions have the greatest potential of providing support for players. However, Taiwanese professional baseball is small in scale, as is the number of players, so there is no way players’ unions can become a mechanism capable of standing up to the clubs.
If we factor in resistance from the clubs, it is clear that players’ unions will have a hard time exerting any influence, and that equality between players and teams will be a hard thing to bring about.
The arbitration system is another important support system for players, but this also faces problems. When the CPBL was established, an arbitration committee was put in place to handle disputes and the CPBL charter states that it must be objective and neutral. The problem is that this arbitration mechanism was established under the authority of the league, and this is a serious cause for concern.
In addition, the appointment of the arbitration committee differs from that of US Major League Baseball, where judicial and labor bodies nominate candidates that are voted for by the players’ union and team owners. The US system also provides complementary measures such as arbitration hearings.
There are thus many questions over the neutrality of the arbitration process in Taiwan, and this is an area in desperate need of reform.
However, the effects of raising legal awareness among players will remain limited if players cannot control themselves. Strengthening discipline and a sense of honor among players is the only way to ensure players can resist all forms of temptation and external interference.