Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inside The Mind of the Wanger

SI.com had a very entertaining feature on Chien-Ming Wang published yesterday - the piece is more human interest than baseball analytic - which chronicles the meteoric rise from Yankee starter to national phenomenon in his native Taiwan.

Stories of his adoptive parents and humble beginnings are somewhat well-known, but here are some more intriguing bits:
After his rookie season Wang returned home to a hero's welcome, receiving an invitation to meet President Chen Shui-Bian. By the time Wang returned home after the 2006 season, in which he went 19-6 with a 3.63 ERA and finished second in American League Cy Young voting, he was more popular than the president. "There's no question that he has more impact than anyone else in our country," says Shao. "The way we look at it, a president is in office for no more than eight years, then someone else comes along. Wang, he's everlasting."

Now Taiwan's major newspapers charge a higher advertising rate for issues published on a day that Wang pitches, as well as the day after each start. The country's largest circulation daily, Apple Daily, estimates that it sells as many as 300,000 extra papers on days that carry reports of another Wang victory. Endorsements that have come Wang's way include McDonald's, Ford, E Sun Bank (one of the largest in Taiwan) and computer-maker Acer, which claims that Wang's name alone has increased its product sales by 10% and lowered the average age of its consumer by almost four years.
Last year a study in a Taiwanese business journal, Money Weekly, found a correlation between Wang's pitching performances and the fluctuations of the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The report attributed a 25% index rise last summer to Wang's strong June and July. "We absolutely believe it to be true," Shao says of the relationship between Wang's performance and last summer's bull market. "Psychologically, how [Wang] does has a huge effect on the Taiwanese people. If he does well, people are in a good mood, and they go out and spend money. If he doesn't, you walk around and you can see people depressed. It's a very personal matter to the Taiwanese people." (For the record, the country's stock index was up roughly 6%, through Monday, since Wang's first start this season, on April 1.)
In their coverage of pop stars and politicians, the Taiwanese papers can be as cruel as the New York tabloids; when it comes to [Wang], they generally do not pry into his personal life.
"The [Taiwanese] media, they know about this image. They could write about the expensive jewelry he buys, but they don't. They don't want to hurt the image."
And you thought Britney and Paris had to deal with scrutiny. Wang's pitching habits may impact Taiwan's national economy, but our "celebrities" can drink, fornicate, rehab and spiral downward like none other.

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