The title on the marquee of the State Theater in downtown Williams-port, Pa. last week said it all: Chinatown. Across the west branch of the Susquehanna River from the cinema, a team of 14 Chinese players from Taiwan's East Kaohsiung Little League was making rice soup of their three U.S. opponents in the Little League World Series with superb pitching, hard hitting and steady fielding. The series victory was a record fourth straight and the fifth in the last six years for Taiwan. Midway through the series Manager Shau Chang-kueng, a taciturn sporting-goods salesman, allowed through an interpreter that his team was "lucky." He did not mean that the Kaohsiung boys were fortunate to win at Williamsport; their good luck had come back home when they defeated the powerful Tainan team for the honor of representing Taiwan (SI, Aug. 19). These days the battle of Williamsport is not won in Pennsylvania, but on the playing fields of the Republic of China.
In their cabin in International Grove next to Howard J. Lamade Memorial Field, the Chinese lived like the other Little Leaguers, except that they ate native fare prepared gratis by the proprietors of Williamsport's Yen King restaurant. Since co-owner and cook Yen Yu-cho was formerly chef at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, the boys dined well, and in explaining the largesse, Yen's partner Joe Miao translated an old folk saying: "If you go someplace and eat nice meal, you not homesick."
There was little chance of that. Taiwan's presence was everywhere in the Little League compound. Chinese fans came in clusters, some of them driving to Williamsport in cars festooned with Republic of China flags. About 20 of the island's sportswriters were there, along with a group of Chinese musicians who drummed for a lion dance. There were huge banners with characters meaning "Add oil," the Chinese way of saying "Go get 'em."
Although this was the first time East Kaohsiung had played at Williamsport, the name Taiwan itself had enough get-up-and-go to rattle the psyches of the opposition. In their first game the Chinese scored seven runs on only two hits in one inning against New Haven, Conn., representing the East. (Taiwan was the Far East.) The Chinese would have won even without the walks and errors. They had 10 hits and four home runs and won 16-0. The star of the game—and the series—was Lin Wenhsiang, a lean righthander who pitched a one-hitter and homered on opening day.
September 1, 1974
In the semis No. 2 starter Kao Sun-teh threw a one-hitter against Tallmadge, Ohio, and Lin, playing first base now, hit two more homers as his team won 11-0.
For U.S. fans all was not necessarily lost in the finals. West representative Red Bluff, Calif. had been on the road for about two weeks, playing its way to Williamsport like a band of midget Mets. The California club had been dismissed as an obscure outfit that would not get out of the state playoffs. The obscurity was deserved, since Red Bluff is a town of 7,676 people stuck off in the Sacramento Valley. But under the urging of beekeeper-manager Jack Gleason, the team slipped, slithered and perhaps even bluffed its way past 13 opponents and suddenly found itself in the World Series.
When Red Bluff's road show finally reached Williamsport, Mark Keluche, a roly-poly 250-pound Indian and the club's No. 1 pitcher, quickly became the darling of the crowd. He and his teammates had the knack of being just as good as they had to be. In the first round Keluche shut out Canada, represented by Victoria, British Columbia, 3-0, and in the semis against Latin America (Maracaibo, Venezuela) Red Bluff came from behind to win 4-3 in a tragedy of errors.
With a beekeeper-manager, a 250-pound Indian pitcher and a third baseman named Rocky Ponciano, Red Bluff had the makings of the sort of legend needed to deal with the invading Taiwanese. But, as usual, it turned out that the Chinese performed all the heroics.
Helped by a muffed fly. Taiwan ripped into Keluche's fastballs in the first inning and scored five runs, two of them on Lin's fourth homer of the series. When Lin came up in the second, Keluche dusted him off. The crowd roared. So Lin slammed the next pitch over the left-field fence for still another homer to tie the series record. He subsequently added a pair of singles to bring his series batting average to .727 and on the mound he gave up only two hits. One of them was really a rare error by his second baseman on an erratically bouncing grounder hit by First Baseman Greg Shoff, but the other was a gigantic homer by Shoff. It was the first run off Taiwan pitching in the World Series since 1972. After the 12-1 final score was posted the Taiwan players accepted the winning plaque and flag with polite smiles, and Manager Shau really opened up. "The kids did a good job," he said.
By winning once again Taiwan has also done a job on the Little League World Series. There is growing resentment of the Chinese victories at Williamsport and while not speaking well of the grumblers, this sourness may indicate that the vigorous support the series has long received may soon die off. "It's a concern of ours," admitted Little League President Dr. Creighton J. Hale just before Taiwan's expected victory. "We continue trying to cope with this. The trouble is, we're put in the position of criticizing excellence in children."