Dodgers exploring an intriguing gamble with Chin-hui Tsao

There are, one supposes, at least two reasons the Los Angeles Dodgers hope to sign 33-year-old right-hander Chin-hui Tsao, banished five years ago from Taiwan’s professional league for allegedly conspiring to fix baseball games:

First, he was terrible at fixing baseball games.

Second, when he’s not conspiring to fix baseball games, Tsao (allegedly) throws 95.

Chin-hui Tsao pitches for the Dodgers in 2007. (Getty)
Chin-hui Tsao pitches for the Dodgers in 2007. (Getty)

Well, there’s a third: Did you see the Dodgers’ bullpen last summer? Taiwan may well look into banishing half of those guys, too.

While it’s fair to assume Tsao is remorseful for his actions – according to reports, he agreed to throw two games in exchange for “benefits” from gamblers – and we are a forgiving society for those whose fastballs tend to warm up a radar gun, inviting a player banned by not one but two leagues (three weeks ago the Australian Baseball League voided his contract with the Adelaide Bite before it began) ought to be sticky for Major League Baseball.

Think Black Sox. Think Pete Rose. Think about the official conniption over Alex Rodriguez’s occasional poker habit. Don’t, please, think about the clubhouse March Madness pools.

An investigation reportedly found Tsao had accepted these “benefits” (sex, among them) and was expected to throw those two games during the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s 2009 season. One game was rained out. The other didn’t come off because of lack of support in the locker room. His punishment was limited to expulsion from the league. Presumably he was saved further legal consequences because of his own inability to predict the weather or the competitive temperaments of his teammates.

The former big-leaguer – Colorado Rockies from 2003-05, Dodgers in ’07 – hadn’t played in a league of significance since ’09, but is attempting a comeback. According to one scout, Tsao had been “throwing the [bejesus] out of the ball.” So there’s that.

A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported the Dodgers were “close” to signing Tsao to a minor-league deal and suggested the club had received clearance from MLB to do so. Both are true. The Dodgers contacted MLB prior to engaging with Tsao, a baseball source with knowledge of those conversations told Yahoo Sports. The league looked into the circumstances surrounding Tsao’s expulsion, found some “ambiguities” in the case, and cleared the way for the signing, the source said.

This much seems clear, ambiguities notwithstanding: A guy banned from playing baseball somewhere else (or, in this case, two somewhere elses) for at least entertaining the idea of throwing games probably should not be rewarded with a second chance here. Not with a major league club. Not on a minor-league deal. Not with MLB’s already very rigid stance on such activities, not with the flaming contradiction it would appear to be, not with the precedent it would set. (Rose, for one, might be inspired to launch another reality TV show, and nobody wants that.)

At minimum, you’d assume Tsao is ineligible for future Hall of Fame ballots. Because, well, anyway …

Maybe, as the source said, there’s more to the story, beyond the fact that Tsao is, you know, really, really sorry. If so, Australian Baseball League officials had a chance to sort that out, and it didn’t end well for Tsao. The word “integrity” gets flipped around a little too often, especially as it relates to a game, but trading hookers for losses – allegedly – pretty much covers the opposite end of integrity, whatever that is.

At this point, it’s somewhat vague.

The Dodgers aren’t in charge of determining who plays in the league and who doesn’t, or why. The Dodgers are in charge of building a reasonable bullpen, and if they choose to trust Tsao and his possibly unsporting past and MLB’s interpretation of it, well, OK. If MLB told the Dodgers they were free to sign Tsao, then the league’s investigators clearly believe there is more – less, actually – to Tsao’s story than Taiwanese (or Australian) officials believe. We eagerly await those details.

Meantime, it appears the Dodgers have themselves a 33-year-old has-been with a shadowy past and a big fastball. Bright side, he has to be better at pitching games than he was at fixing them.

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