On August 30th, 2021 Wang Kuang-hui passed away at the age of 56. If I were to simply break his career down in terms of numbers I’m sure a lot of folks would come away underwhelmed. I’ll get to his actual stats in a bit, but to focus only on those would be to sell his importance to his county, Taiwan, and his league, the Chinese Professional Baseball League, extremely short. Some players take on a stature that no statistical breakdown will even encompass, Kuang-hui was one of those players.
Kuang-hui was already a well-known player in Taiwanese baseball circles when he joined up with the CPBL for their debut 1990 season. He had spent a few seasons in the vibrant Taiwanese post-high school amateur scene that precluded the formation of the CPBL. In retrospect, it is all too fitting that the man who would go onto become one of the faces of baseball in Taiwan spent the entirety of his career, pre and CPBL, with the Brother Elephants. The professional side of his career lasted from 1990 to 2004 and at every step, he was exactly what the fledgling league needed to gain some sort of legitimacy.
That was never more apparent than in his 1990 season. That year he slashed a remarkable .342/.387/.510 with nine home runs and 23 doubles in 337 plate appearances. That was good enough for a 166 WRC+, a total that Kuang-hui would never again reach in his career. That gets to a major reason for why Kuang-hui’s stardom superseded his results. The numbers he put up were almost always very good to great, but his reputation made it where the numbers were second to the draw of seeing him play baseball.
The CPBL was a fledgling league when Kuang-hui was at his zenith and that allowed him to combine with a small group of stars to carry the league during a time when it easily could have faltered. He would go on to make 12 consecutive CPBL All-Star Games, win three CPBL Gold Gloves, and take home six CPBL titles. Only two of those featured playoff appearances by Kuang-hui as in the remaining he was either injured or the Elephants eliminated the need for a Taiwan Series by winning both halves of the season. The point is that being one of the best players on a team that won the league title six of the 14 seasons he played in the league easily led to Kuang-hui earning every single bit of recognition he got for being one of the faces of the league.
When his career ended in 2004 Kuang-hui was a shell of the player he once was. His decline as a hitter had started in his 1999 season when his fabulous eye and ability to make contact started to leave him. Then, the last three years of his career he was so injured that he only managed to take the field for 14 combined games. Decline and injuries aside it’s hard to argue with a career stat line of .285/.335/.414 in 3,910 plate appearances. 1,016 career hits may seem like a low total and to be fair, it is, but that’s essentially over ten seasons where he played a regular schedule. As stated earlier, for Kuang-hui it’s about more than just his baseline stats. They are something any professional ballplayer would take, don’t get me wrong. However, Kuang-hui is in that rarified air of a player who helped to define and put a league on the map. The CPBL owes plenty to Kuang-hui and hopefully fans of the modern-day CPBL will use the time of his passing to learn a little more about one of Taiwan’s all-time great baseball pioneers.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – World Baseball Softball Confederation