Daily Archives: 15 August 2004

Early Baseball Addict, Sir Chentung Liang Cheng

Probably the most famous baseball-addicted member of the Chinese Educational Mission [to the U.S. in the 1870s] was Liang Pixu, also known as Liang Pe Yuk, Pi Yuk, and, later, as Sir Chentung Liang Cheng. A member of the final detachment of students, he was just twelve years old when he arrived in the United States in 1875. He was in his third year of college preparatory work at Phillips Andover Academy when the mission was scuttled in 1881. Liang Pixu would return to the United States years later as China’s top diplomatic representative, but not before he gained a measure of fame in New England as a clutch-hitting baseball star. His reputation was made in a game between Phillips Andover Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy in 1881, just weeks before the Chinese Educational Mission was called home.

Andover and Exeter were bitter rivals. The two schools were founded just five years apart–Andover in 1778 and Exeter in 1783–and were located just twenty-five miles (forty kilometers) from each other–Andover in the northeastern corner of Massachusetts and Exeter in the southeastern corner of New Hampshire. They attracted the elite of New England, who, like students everywhere, were prone to measure their pride as readily in athletics as in academics. The first time the two schools met on a baseball field was in 1878, the centenary of Andover’s founding, when Exeter crushed Andover 11-1. Three years later, though, Andover got its revenge with a 13-5 win at Exeter. The star of that sweet victory was outfielder Chentung Liang Cheng, who drove in three runs with a pair of key extra-base hits under ugly circumstances. Seeing a Chinese student wearing the flannel baseball uniform of their bitter rivals, the Exeter fans behaved predictably. They greeted Chentung Liang Cheng with derisive ethnic jeers that played on the racial stereotypes of the times, yelling: “Washee, washee; chinkee go back benchee.” Chentung Liang Cheng ignored the taunts and responded by hitting the first pitch he saw for a two-run triple. An inning later, he doubled home another run.

Judging from accounts of other baseball games of the times, the ethnic jeers that greeted Chentung Liang Cheng at Exeter were but a trivial annoyance. An Andover official recalled arriving at another baseball game on that campus and finding “the air blue from the smoke of exploding firecrackers hurled at the players by the respective opposition. In addition, a small cannon was installed near first base. Loaded with grass and dirt, from time to time it added to the hazards of trying to play on the diamond itself. Any base runner had to bury his face in his arms to protect his eyes, if not his life.” Baseball games in New England at the time were chaos–much as they would be in Korea a century later.

There was chaos of a different kind when Chentung Liang Cheng and his Andover teammates returned home from their win over Exeter. In a speech he delivered twenty-two years later to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of Phillips Academy, Sir Chentung Liang Cheng described the scene. “When the train arrived with the victorious nine, the whole school turned out to welcome (us) with torchlights, a brass band and an omnibus drawn by enthusiastic students with long rope,” he recalled. “Even Rome could not have received Caesar with greater enthusiasm and pride when he returned from his famous campaigns in triumph.”

The joy of baseball and of that triumphant moment stayed with Chentung Liang Cheng the rest of his remarkable life. After returning to China, he spent years in service of the Qing Dynasty government, rising steadily through the diplomatic ranks. In 1897, while serving in London as secretary to the Special Chinese Embassy to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Liang Cheng was named an Honorary Knight Commander of Michael and George. At that time, he placed his Western “courtesy name,” Chentung, before his family name to more readily conform to British custom. Had he failed to do so, his English-speaking friends inevitably would have called him Sir Liang, which would have been as wholly inappropriate as referring to Winston Churchill as Sir Churchill after his knighthood. Decorum decrees the nomenclature should be Sir Winston and Sir Chentung.

The crowning moment of Sir Chentung’s diplomatic career came on July 12, 1902, when he became China’s minister to the United States–the emperor’s ambassador to Meiguo–a post he held until July 3, 1907. He was a natural at the job, fostering good relations on every level, from the White House to the New England schoolrooms where he had gotten his education years earlier.

In 1905, three decades after he left China as a twelve-year-old student, Sir Chentung wrote an article for a youth magazine in the United States in which he used baseball, among other games, to explain the wonders of life in his adopted country. “In a Chinese school it is all work and no play,” he wrote. “There is no intermission from morning till night except for meals. There is no recess during school hours. There are no regular holidays, like Saturdays and Sundays, to break the monotony of daily routine. There is no summer vacation to look forward to as a season of relaxation and freedom.” Things were different in the United States. “Here work is seasoned with play. Baseball, football, and other athletic sports furnish the necessary outlets for the escape of the superfluous energy of youth. In fact, what is positively forbidden to a schoolboy in China may be freely enjoyed to the full in America.” The lengthy article was accompanied by a line drawing of a batter swinging at a ball and two photographs–one showing Liang Cheng in his Andover baseball uniform and one showing him as he appeared in 1903, dressed in elegant Chinese robes.

Liang Cheng was proud of his baseball experience and believed his proficiency at such an intrinsically American game helped his diplomatic career in Washington. Once, shortly after taking his post, Sir Chentung met U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who said an old friend recently told him he thought the new Chinese minister played baseball for Andover and helped win a championship with a key hit in the 1880s. Sir Chentung happily confirmed the story, and Roosevelt asked who had been the best player on that Andover team? The new minister temporarily abandoned his Chinese manners and diplomatic reserve and replied simply, he was. “From that moment the relations between President Roosevelt and myself became ten-fold stronger and closer,” Liang Cheng said.

SOURCE: Taking in a Game: A History of Baseball in Asia, by Joseph A. Reaves (U. Nebraska Press, 2002), pp. 24-27

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Unknown Regional Baseball Rules

All baseball teams in the Olympics may play by the same set of international rules, but there are many, many variations at national, local, and league levels. Here are some of the hitherto unknown rules of the game in different parts of the world.

  • In Mongolia, baseball is played on horseback, but without saddles. The horses wear shinguards and shaffrons. If the pitcher beans either the batter or his horse, the batter is awarded first base–provided he manages to stay on the horse.
  • In the U.S. Beantown League, by contrast, any batter who is beaned is permitted to go directly to second base–by way of the pitcher’s mound, but without the bat.
  • In Philippines Peoplepowerball, the spectators in the stands are permitted to throw an umpire out of the game if they disagree with the call. The hometeam usually wins.
  • In U.S. Ownerball, the owners of the opposing teams are permitted to place bids with the homeplate umpire for as many as three strikes and four balls per game. The richer owner’s team often wins.
  • In the sparsely populated Australian Outback, where the outfield is the outback and a home run is a walkabout, Ockerball only requires three players (and 27 beers) per side. On the tiny islands of the Torres Straits, this is known as Beach Baseball.
  • China’s Iron Ricebowl League, by contrast, allows up to 18 players per side, two at each field position. In ideal cases, one is a better fielder and the other a better hitter, but in actual practice, one is usually an unambitious young person and the other an elder dependent.
  • In China, spitballs are permitted.
  • In Korea and the Philippines, hot dogs are served in bowls, not buns.
  • In Japan, tie games are permitted, but not counted as wins or losses. In Canada and New Zealand, a tie game is regarded as a win-win.
  • Japanese Pro Baseball allows foreign players, but with restrictions: only two foreign players are permitted in the field at any one time, and only one foreign player is allowed to be on base at any one time. If a foreign player comes up to bat when another is already on base, the former must either bring the latter home, sacrifice to move him forward, or strike out. (A walk, whether intentional or not, will advance the lead runner unless the manager of the team at bat elects to replace the batter with a native-born pinch runner. This is an example of how protectionism breeds regulatory excess.)
  • In China, first base is down the left foul line and base runners run clockwise around the diamond. In Taiwan, first base is down the right foul line and base runners run counter-clockwise around the diamond.
  • North Korea requires all players to bat, throw, and pitch left-handed. South Korea used to require all players to play right-handed, but its new Sunshine Policy now requires all players to be ambidextrous. The home team must play right-handed and the visitors left-handed.
  • In the Micronesian Lagoon League, the ball field is underwater and the infield must be at least 1 meter deep. A hit that lands in the ocean outside the atoll is a home run, and one that touches the land qualifies as a ground-rule double, even if it rolls into the ocean.
  • In the old Siberian League, the bases were 90 meters apart, the outfield barbed wire was at least 500 meters distant, the 50-meter warning track was mined, umpires were armed, and guard towers were placed at the end of each foul line. Home runs were extremely rare, but ground balls could go a long way on the ice if they got past the outfielders, and mine-rule doubles were fairly common.

SOURCES: Herodotus, Confuseus, Marco Polo, Reuters, Katie Couric, faroutliars

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