History of baseball in Asia

From BR Bullpen

Asia has had a strong history of baseball going back to the 19th Century, though the game has developed far more in some countries than in others.

Baseball was interested in modern South Korea by missionaries in 1838. Japan did not get baseball until later, but it developed quickly - by 1873, baseball was being played at the college level. Baseball did not become a professional sport until the 1936 establishment of the Japanese Professional Baseball League, but it had a national presence at both the high school and college level by then. Japan introduced baseball to Taiwan after they took control of the island in 1895.

As in Japan, professional leagues developed much slower than amateur ones. The Korea Baseball Organization was not formed until 1982 and Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League was established in 1990. By then, all three Asian powers had established themselves on the world stage - Japan and Taiwan had both win a Little League World Series in the 1960s and they had a combined 13 titles by the time South Korea won in 1984. From 1967-2000, Asian teams won 23 of 34 Little League World Series. Japan won the 1984 Olympics and South Korea followed suit in the 2008 Olympics, while Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics.

Even after professional circuits were set up in Asia and many former major leaguers had played in them, it took time for Asian players to get a chance in the majors, for Japanese players in part due to restrictive rules established by Nippon Pro Baseball. Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player in the majors in 1964, then NPB officials clamped down further - the next Japanese player would be Hideo Nomo 31 years later, after Nomo exploited a loophole. After that, numerous other stars followed, including Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The first Korean in the US minors was Wong Kuk Lee in 1968, but there was no Korean big leaguer until Chan-ho Park in 1994. In 1974, Shin-Ming Tan was the first player from Taiwan in the minor leagues; no Taiwan native would be in the majors until Chin-Feng Chen in 2002.

After Asia's big three, talent levels fall off dramatically. China had Chao Wang make it to the minors in 2001 but no one in the following nine years; they had sent teams to the first two World Baseball Classics and upset Taiwan in both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic (but these victories were clouded by allegations of game-throwing by the scandal-plagued Taiwanese).

The Philippines won the 1954 Asian Championship but nothing in the next 55+ years; as of 2010, they had not produced a major leaguer. Thailand had played in the 2007 Baseball World Cup but their lack of talent was evident in a 26-1 loss to Australia. Few other countries have even participated in the Asian Championship - Indonesia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, North Korea and India all have sent teams. In 2009, India natives Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel debuted in the Pittsburgh Pirates chain to add to the list of Asian countries producing minor leaguers.