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The investigators' report has never been released, but Roy Reiner, a past president of the Hong Kong Little League and one of the men sent to look into the Taiwan situation, says the infractions detected by the committee were largely the same ones found in most non-U.S. Little League organizations. No major violations were uncovered.
Little League rules require that a player be between nine and 12 years old when the season begins, and the most serious of the unsubstantiated violations charged against Taiwan at Williamsport was that its boys were overage. American coaches not only were surprised that the Tainan team performed like a bunch of 20-year-olds, they were startled that the Chinese players were for the first time the biggest in the Series and that several of the alleged 12-year-olds were taller than their coaches. The Giants were not unusual in that regard. Many Taiwanese youngsters are bigger than their parents, primarily because they have grown up eating more meat and dairy foods than any previous Chinese generation. And the coaches' complaints about size failed to take into account the performance of tiny Cheng Pai-sheng, the 4'11", 95-pound infielder who was the Giants' most impressive hitter with a .733 average and three homers.
In fact, the U.S. skeptics could have put the entire age question to rest if they had asked the Giants to show them the government ID cards the boys are required to carry at all times. As Reiner's committee found out, Chiang's China has one of the world's most thorough census and residency registration systems. Each child is issued a card upon entering school. The penalty for tampering with an ID is one year in jail, a sentence stiff enough to make Little League officials loth to fiddle with them. And Reiner discovered no indications that changes on ID cards were being made with the government's blessings.
The infractions found by the investigators pertained mostly to the size of districts and the use of schoolteachers as managers. The teams that finally make it through the district, state and regional playoffs to Williamsport are supposed to be made up of children from the same local league. For example, the players on last year's Tampa team were from that city's Belmont Heights area, and this season's Taiwan representatives are all from a league based in the east side of Kaohsiung. According to the rules, a district ideally should not encompass more than 15,000 people. And teachers who serve as managers or coaches are considered "professionals" by the Little League, which prefers that other volunteers, usually fathers of boys playing in the league, run the teams.
The rules on districting and managing were devised for small-town and suburban America and are usually broken or sidestepped in foreign countries and even in some large U.S. cities. In such places there are often not enough baseball-playing youngsters and almost invariably not enough money to support a league on the required population base. And foreign fathers generally have neither the time nor the inclination to become involved with children's baseball.
Taiwan's Little League officials were embarrassed by their lopsided win last year and distressed that the Americans felt a need to investigate. "I am sorry; we were too strong," Hsieh Kuo-cheng, the harassed-looking president of the island's baseball association, has apologized repeatedly. To placate Little League headquarters, the R.O.C. readily agreed to nearly double its number of districts to 41 this year and to curtail the use of teacher-managers. The Kaohsiung team that will appear in Williamsport this week is managed by a sporting-goods salesman and coached by a photographer. In fact, the Chinese apparently have gone beyond the rules to prove their good intentions. Huang, the perfect-game pitcher of last August's world champions, did not play this season, even though he was still eligible. Officials say an eye disease kept him off the diamond, but one well-informed source in Taiwan says Huang was held out because his family moved from Tainan to Taipei. The Chinese were concerned that if Huang turned up at Williamsport next week pitching for a different city, the U.S. would accuse them of moving their best players around in order to pack all of them in one district.
"Our report to Williamsport presented three possible solutions," Reiner says. "One was that they could kick out Taiwan for its violations, but that would have meant tossing out most of the Little League's other foreign members. Two was to allow them in international competition only once every two years, but again that would have meant applying the same rule to everyone else. Three was to find some way to beat them."
Wisely, Williamsport has chosen the last of these alternatives. Coming up with a way to do it next week may be less difficult because Taiwan is obeying the rules more closely. It may be further simplified since Huang will not be there pitching and the island's best active Little Leaguer, Tainan's extraordinary Shortstop-Pitcher Wang Ching-chung, will not be there hitting his long home runs. And it may even be possible because the Kaohsiung team that will represent Taiwan this year is probably not the island's best. But still it will not be easy, for the Chinese success is the result of things the Little League cannot—and probably would not care to—legislate against.
In the high hill country 25 kilometers and an entire culture away from the modern east coast city of Taitung, a slate monument the size of a small tombstone stands in the middle of a muddy school yard, THIS VILLAGE MADE BASEBALL GREAT read the gold characters etched into the slab, which is surrounded by life-sized metal silhouettes of a pitcher, a catcher and a batter mounted on corroding pipes. The hamlet, a cluster of about 50 shabby houses, most of them with thatched roofs, is called Hung Yeh—in English, Red Leaf.
The road to Red Leaf winds its un-paved way up the coast through tangerine groves, small villages-with two or three open-front stores, yangtao vines and pineapple fields. It is an obstacle course of razorlike shards of shale, abrupt inclines, hair-raising hairpin turns, rockslides and hub-deep quagmires passable during the rainy season only to off-the-road vehicles. Its traffic includes water buffalo, ox carts and vehicles whose drivers are disciples of Evel Knievel. The trip to Red Leaf is a tough one, and it's even tougher getting out.