My Little League baseball career spanned the late Seventies and early Eighties. During those summers, I always set aside the afternoon in August when the championship game of the Little League World Series was broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” There was a thrill to watching kids my own age and from teams like my own playing baseball on national television. But this anticipation and my youthful patriotism were always dashed when the teams representing the United States suffered their annual, humiliating defeat to the team from Taiwan.
That was my introduction to Taiwanese baseball.
The story of Taiwanese dominance in youth baseball is one part of Andrew Morris’ book, Colonial Project, National Game: A History of Baseball in Taiwan (University of California Press, 2010). In the book and the interview, Andrew explains the secrets to Taiwan’s string of ten world championships in thirteen years. But he also ably sets the story of this Little League dynasty—and baseball’s development throughout the 20th century—against the backdrop of Taiwan’s political and social history. Baseball was brought to the East Asian island not by the Americans who invented the sport, but by the Japanese who had adopted it in the late 1800s as part of their own process of Westernization. During their fifty years of rule, Japanese colonial officials saw baseball as means of cultivating the local Taiwanese population and turning them into reliable imperial subjects. In some ways this project was successful, as baseball was adopted by Taiwan’s ethnic Chinese and aborigine populations, and came to be recognized as their national sport.
Like other sports that spread across the globe—cricket in India, rugby in South Africa, soccer in Latin America—baseball was an imperial legacy that both connected Taiwan to the larger world and helped form a distinctly Taiwanese sense of identity. In our interview, Andrew explains this mix of baseball, politics, and ethnic tensions in Taiwan. It is a complicated history and an intriguing one, as Andrew shows with stories of Sadaharu Oh, a 1920s school team that could have come right out of a Hollywood script, and the greatest Little League baseball teams ever to take the field.