Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang & Taiwan's Int'l Pol Econ

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/23/2008 06:13:00 AM
The resident ace of the New York Yankees' pitching staff is none other than Chien-Ming Wang from the Republic of China, better know as Taiwan. With Wang's record now 4-0, Taiwanese citizens starved of something to root for are going berserk pulling for the tall, silent hurler for the Yankees. Yes, non-Yankee fans like me will point out that Wang doesn't strike out a whole lot of hitters and gets by with a lot of run support from the megabuck Yankees lineup, but don't tell that to the Taiwanese people. [The AP writeup linked above notes that he is the fastest pitcher to reach 50 wins since Dwight Gooden in 1986, requiring only 85 starts.] This fellow is far more popular than any Taiwanese politician. When he takes to the mound, the country practically stops to watch. Newspaper advertising rates soar as well on days when he pitches. Plus, a study claims that the Taiwanese Stock Exchange performs better when Wang pitches well. Why it's WangMania! Add that virtually every product imaginable bears his likeness in the ROC and you've got Chien-Ming Wang, Inc. For the first time ever, from ESPN:

Some 7,800 miles from New York City, in his native country -- where his famously stoic face gazes from billboards, ATMs, credit cards, cellphones, bags of potato chips, milk cartons; where the people call him, simply, Taiwan zhiguang (the pride and glory of Taiwan) -- Chien-Ming Wang is everywhere and nowhere, a hero and a prisoner. For an intensely private, excruciatingly shy 28-year-old, being a national icon is a heavy burden. "It's crazy," he says in his slow and soft voice. "I think, This is strange. I'm just one man..."

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.

A lagging economy, political scandal (the president's wife, Wu Shu-Chen, and three aides were charged with embezzlement, while former Vice Interior Minister Yen Wan-Ching was recently convicted in a bribery case) and escalating tensions with China have made this a nervous time for the Taiwanese people. "Wang, he's our only consensus," says Shao. Referring to the government's combative legislative branch, which is renowned for in-chamber brawling among lawmakers, Shao says, "When our congressmen are debating, they'll stop their fighting, watch Wang pitch, then go back to fighting when the inning is over."

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.)