Slowly, of course. But MLB’s China initiative, which began with Leon Xie, two assistants and one office, is starting to take off. As Tony Dokoupil writes in Newsweek, one of the reasons for it is an unexpected but, upon reflection, quite reasonable relationship between baseball and Confucianism:
Four years later, as another Major League Baseball season is scored into existence, Xie is packaging the game as a Confucian pastime with modern relevance, a quintessentially Chinese sport …“I mean, talk about Confucianism,” says Jim Small, the director of Major League Baseball for all of Asia, and Xie’s boss, rattling off parallels between China’s ethical philosophy and the American game that inspired nickel-beer night and dugout-dancing mascots. “There’s no clock, you sacrifice yourself for the team, everything is in threes …”
I’m not gonna bet the farm that Jim Small is much of an expert in Confucianism, but I’ll at least go along with the idea that there is some Li — baseball is all about rituals and culture of a certain sort — and filial piety, broadly defined, caught up in the general baseball zeitgeist. At least if you squint a little bit.
What I won’t buy, for reasons that Dokoupil explains in the story, is China becoming a baseball power or producing major leaguers any time soon. But the game seems to be making inroads there. Given the size of the population, and the fact that Chinese athletes have become world class in just about every athletic event that country has committed to in some serious way, it’s only a matter of time before things change.