Even though baseball is an American invention, cheating isn’t.
Baseball’s history is not without its scandals. There’s the infamous Black Sox scandal that drove Legend Shoeless Joe Jackson from America’s pastime. There’s Pete Rose, the MLB’s all-time hits leader who is banned from the sport for gambling on games as a manager. There’s the Houston Astros, who have essentially been proven to have cheated their way into a World Series trophy in 2017. And of course there has been steroid scandal after steroid scandal afflicting Milwaukee’s own Ryan Braun as well as rivals and greats like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds.
But no country’s baseball history is as rife with scandal as Taiwan.
Despite rumors stretching back almost to the beginning of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) — which is based entirely in Taiwan and played its first season in 1990 — organized crime’s influence on the sport didn’t start making headlines in 1996.
Wait, what does Taiwanese baseball have to do with Milwaukee? Don August is what.
August is 56 now. But from 1988 until 1991, he appeared in 88 games primarily as a starting pitcher with the Milwaukee Brewers. His rookie year was enviable, with 13 wins in 22 starts and a 3.09 ERA, but he was out of the league after ’91. He placed fourth in rookie-of-the-year voting.
Within a couple years though, his Major League career wasn’t what it used to be. In 1996, he was pitching in the CPBL.
And on Twitter on Monday, August opened up about what he called the “maybe the craziest and most compromising situation.”
Not So Goodfellas
In 1996, gangsters’ influence in Taiwanese baseball was still only rumored. There were six teams in the league but game attendance was still consistently in the thousands across the country; the island’s population was around 21.5 million at the time, and it’s still below 24 million now.
“To give you all some background, in the middle of the 1996 season, there were rumors that there some players in the league getting paid to fix games. I didn’t know if there was any truth to this,” August wrote in his third tweet of a lengthy thread. He would find out soon enough.
It’s come out later that one of the main guys running the gambling rings (at least later on) was a gangster known as the Windshield Wiper.
“From 2006 to 2009, the Windshield Wiper and his intermediaries paid dozens of players as much as $30,000 for each game they agreed to throw. In all, more than 40 players, coaches, retired players, gangsters and politicians were implicated,” The New York Times reported.
Windshield Wiper’s real name is Tsai Cheng-yi and he’s since served prison time. And Taiwan has cracked down on cheating, in part by legalizing some sports betting. Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox great who may end up in the Hall of Fame, even played in Taiwan in 2013.
But in the ’90s, gangs had the freedom to run things on the diamond.
And these years were dangerous for ball-players who refused to cooperate.
In 1996, the same year as August’s run-in with the Taiwanese underground, four players were kidnapped — one of them was pistol-whipped and another had a gun stuck in his mouth, but they survived. In 1997, all but two members of the China Times Eagles (who are now defunct) were banned forever from the league for fixing games. And in 1999, a manager was stabbed, allegedly for refusing to fix games, after dropping his daughter off at school.
During a game with a team known as the “Elephants” (why aren’t there more American teams named after Elephants?), August and his teammates noticed that there was way more security and police than usual. One opposing player’s head was wrapped in gauze.
“As you can imagine, that was pretty shocking to see so I definitely knew some fishy things were going on. Again, I wasn’t fully sure still if all of these crazy rumors were true, but I found out firsthand very quickly that they were,” August tweeted.
“This Is When Things Get Nuts.”
While there, a Taiwanese woman, speaking English, walked up to the American hurler. When she mentioned the “untruth game,” August finally realized what was up. The other guys there in the private room were gangsters. The guy who invited him to the bar was involved (perhaps under threat of violence or otherwise). And August was the target.
He tried to play dumb. It didn’t work. She offered him $10 grand “just to think on it.” He refused.
After the woman conferred with who August could only assume was some kind of boss, the pitcher was told “you’re never going to win another game if you don’t” take the money.
Next, they forced him into an elevator. “I DID NOT want to go in,” August recalled.
He figured they were going to take him to the roof and throw him off. They didn’t. On the way down from the 10th floor bar, August feared all the way he was about to get choked out.
“These seconds felt like hours,” August says of the time in the elevator, “but eventually we made it down to the lobby floor and nothing happened. I couldn’t believe it.”
August threw five more times that year. His Bulls won four of those games. And his integrity was in tact. August won. He never got stuck in with the mob. He never got hurt.
“I didn’t want to ruin my name and everything I had accomplished as a Major Leaguer,” August wrote. In 1998, he won league MVP. “But mostly,” he wrote, “I never wanted my son to be embarrassed of me for throwing games.”
I went back and forth on what story I should share first, but screw it, let’s dive straight into maybe the craziest and most compromising situation I’ve been in in my entire life – the time gangsters approached me to throw games in 1996 during the CPBL gambling scandal in Taiwan
— Don August (@DonAugust38) April 14, 2020