Postseason split

The Central League is expected to cancel its Climax Series postseason playoffs in order to focus to allow for as many regular-season games, Sankei Sports reported on Saturday. The Pacific League is expected to stick with some kind of playoffs to choose its Japan Series competitor.

While virtually everything is new about the 2020 season because of the coronavirus, for stretches of their history the CL and PL have split on their approach to postseason baseball.

The PL, which has traditionally trailed the CL in attendance, has repeatedly tried playoff systems, a single-season trial in 1952, a 10-year stretch from 1973 to 1982 when the first-half and second-half champions played off, and most recently from 2004 to 2006.

The 1952 model consisted of all seven PL teams playing a 108-game season, and the four best clubs playing 12 more. The 1973-1982 format was filled with problems, primarily one of rainouts. Japan has not managed rainouts well, and first-half games rained out and made out at the end of the season, counted toward the first-half championship, not the second.

Teams that won the first half could go into the Japan Series uncontested by winning the second, but often they just fell flat in the second half.

I wasn’t around for those first two tries, but when the PL tried again in 2004, it was accompanied by a chorus of laughter from the old guard and the CL, ridiculing it for watering down the value of the regular season.

The new CL format would allow the third-place team to reach the Japan Series, prompting one of Japan’s biggest windbags, then Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe to spout some of the nonsense he was famous for.

“If the Giants win the CL and the PL champion doesn’t have a winning record, we’ll boycott,” he famously said.

Of course, the reason those playoffs only lasted three years was because the CL owners got jealous of the big crowds that second-division PL teams drew in the waning weeks of the season and wanted in. The PL playoffs were replaced by the Climax Series, which was modified so as not to offend CL sensibilities.

So if things go as the Sankei Sports reported, it will be a nice taste of nostalgia, with the CL owners getting once more to spout off about old-school family values or whatever, and very possibly at the end of the season wishing they had kept their damned mouths shut.

Baseball’s Narcischism

Players in new countries often suffer a kind of culture shock when immersed in another country’s baseball culture. Latin American players sometimes comment on the lack of joy in Japan’s game, while many from North America find the endless meetings to discuss opponents’ tendencies and weaknesses mind-numbing.

Japanese describe western baseball as a game of speed and power. What sounds like praise is also an opaque slite that says Americans attempt to physically overpower baseball in a way that lacks the science, art and discipline revered in Japan.

Former Seibu Lions manager Haruki Ihara was fond of saying Japan had nothing to learn from MLB. This was an extreme example of the kind of misinformed nationalistic dogma that sports sometimes encourages, where it’s us versus them. Ihara is proud of the effort Japanese put into the game, and rightfully so. But to be dismissive of other styles and ways of thinking is to restrict what one can learn.

Baseball is parochial at heart. As much as sports can bring people together, it can also highlight minute differences in approaches, and to fans of the local game, that can mean a constant critique of the way others play. What are unwritten rules but an effort to assert that one set of behaviors is the “right way” to play the game and that conflicting views are “wrong?”

You see this as much off the field as on, where social Darwinism seems to steer much of the discussion of what baseball is towards those with the most influence and money.

Within any league you can name, because of owners’ wealth and their power to gift a region their brand of the game or take it elsewhere, they sometimes talk as if their businesses grant them a degree of ownership of what baseball is.

Owners and team executives are also sources for stories about policy, so it’s very easy for us in the media to be swayed by their point of view that baseball is a business. It’s one thing to explain why teams and leagues make decisions that adversely affect their customers, by using blackout rules or by manipulating service time. It’s another to argue that fans should accept that behavior.

Arguing that teams should manipulate service time to lengthen the time prospects need to reach arbitration is akin to arguing that political office holders should give sweetheart deals to big donors because “that’s how the system works.”

Although people make money off of baseball, it isn’t itself a business, it’s a game, and how it’s played, watched, and marketed as entertainment varies a lot. Just because Major League Baseball attracts more of the best players in the world, doesn’t make MLB synonymous with baseball or give its owners the power to decide what baseball is and isn’t even if they talk as if it does.

When people refer to “baseball” they so often mean “their baseball,” the game they grew up with and the way it is played by the teams they follow. For most modern American fans, social Darwinism is really part of their baseball, since MLB essentially lords it over its imperial colonies in the minor leagues. These people tend to see baseball as a kind of order of quality, with the quality of a league defined by its location in the world hierarchy.

With MLB nowhere near starting in the current coronavirus pandemic, Americans looked at other leagues and some desired to know where they fit in their stratified social Darwinism models. How good a league is CPBL? Is it better than Double-A? How about KBO? To answer that question, someone published a graphic that had MLB at the top followed in descending order by NPB, Triple-A, KBO, Double-A, CPBL, and so on down to rookie ball. I don’t remember if it had the Mexican league or not, which MLB has nominally labeled as “Triple-A.”

But Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are different animals that aren’t organized by the same principles that govern talent within MLB’s imperial structure. In this regard, they are something like how minor league ball was in the United States, Canada, and Cuba before Branch Rickey and the Cardinals ruined it by spreading their tentacles across the continent much as the British Empire had around the globe in the preceding centuries.

By amassing resources, the Cardinals were able to compete at a high level and forced other teams to mimic them at a great cost to baseball across America. The creation of farm systems was a form of baseball eugenics to achieve efficiency at the cost of variety.

Pro leagues outside the majors’ imperial sphere aren’t “levels,” they are leagues, were like the majors, teams keep their top talent in order to win games. That makes their leagues vibrant sources of variation that enrich baseball as a whole. I believe baseball was better before MLB turned minor leagues and their teams into the baseball version of chicken houses, where poultry is grown to order in unhealthy conditions because they aren’t any part of a real ecosystem.

Baseball needs to grow and be part of places and cultures. And deciding where those cultures and their baseball ranks, as many baseball fans do around the world, is a vile, narcissistic exercise.

It’s not all about money

After meeting with health experts and his counterpart from pro soccer’s J-League, NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito then met baseball team executives. And though Saito did not announce a date for Opening Day — in keeping with Japan’s current pandemic view of “It will be over when it’s over” — he did say that could come as early as next Monday.

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve studied the differences between MLB and NPB and spent an inordinate amount of that time researching the cost and benefits of sacrifice bunts. But at no time has the difference between the two institutions been more clear than in the way they’ve handled the COVID-19 crisis. It makes me proud to know that my favorite team for all its flaws and all of NPB’s, plays here and is not associated with MLB.

Although NPB greeted the news of a pandemic with one new official Opening Day after another and MLB owners sounded like the adults in the room, saying “Let’s see how this plays out.” The roles quickly reversed. Since the end of March, when Japan’s Prime Minister realized that ignoring the virus while praying at the Olympic alter would not keep the games in Tokyo this summer, Japan has dealt with the issue in a fairly straight-forward manner.

In my homeland, it’s been different.

MLB owners: “By staying safe at home, you people are costing me money. Let’s talk about furloughs and pay cuts because I have a right to protect the return on MY investment.”

NPB owners: “We’ll beat this thing together. Stay safe. Stay ready.”

Frankly, I consider the words of NPB commissioners to be next to useless, but that was because of Saito’s predecessor, Katsuhiko Kumazaki. A former prosecutor, Kumazaki seemed to understand little about the game and really couldn’t give a straight answer to any question. But I’m becoming a fan of Saito, who seems to understand when to be precise and when to show his humanity.

I’ve written before about how Japanese businesses are constrained to some extent by the social demand that they show some concern for their employees. And though Japanese companies will happily tread over talented individualists while promoting incompetent flatterers, they still spend on “company vacations” for the entire staff. It’s more about appearance than real caring but that’s what is expected of them.

In baseball, teams run brutal practices and used to tolerate physical abuse by coaches, but pennant winners always get vacations in December — these days a paid trip to Hawaii for virtually everyone in the organization and their families. It’s expected. It’s part of the cost of doing business.

And while MLB owners are clearly using the pandemic to tighten the screws on labor and on the bargaining rights of amateurs, NPB owners have been behaving as expected, calmly, as if the players and their families actually mattered.

In the final question of Monday’s press conference, a reporter asked Saito if the owners had considered pay cuts to the players.

“At this time, that is something that we are not thinking about,” he said with a slight chuckle that certainly sounded like he was envisioning an MLB owner being grilled for the answer to that question.

Virus hits japan’s baseball omelet Factory

For the first time, Japan’s national high school baseball championship was canceled for a reason other than war or civil unrest — a wave of “rice” riots that swept Japan in the summer of 1918.

A president with the tournament’s sponsor, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, spoke eloquently on Wednesday about how holding the tournament would not only endanger players but tournament staff while asking volunteers turn away from essential work in communities where they are badly needed in the battle against the “invisible coronavirus.”

After that display of passion and understanding, the head of the Japan High School Baseball Federation, Eiji Atta droned on about the mythical importance of the tournament for not only the physical well-being of Japan but for the moral educational value baseball provides.

His sermon was complete with the disinformation that makes Japanese high school baseball ideologues so entertaining.

The press conference opened with the news that both the finals and the regional tournaments, whose winners advance to the finals, had all been canceled together by the stakeholders in Wednesday’s meeting.

Hatta then said nobody but regional federations would decide whether to hold or cancel their tournaments. That’s like Donald Trump telling a U.S. government employee to do her job as she sees fit when she knows that not kissing his ass sufficiently is grounds for dismissal.

This happened a year and a half ago, when Niigata’s federation unilaterally established pitch limits for its spring regional tournament. The national federation, known in Japanese as “Koyaren,” responded that Niigata had no business doing anything on its own without asking permission first.

Breaking eggs

That move, which Niigata walked back on under pressure, did not occur in a vacuum but was part of a larger movement to save Japanese baseball from itself. One by one, other baseball bodies began seeking ways to prevent injuries by establishing rules to limit abusive overuse of young arms.

But by braving Koyaren’s wrath, Niigata’s move was the pebble that triggered an avalanche and opened a public debate on what had been Japanese baseball’s most sacred doctrine: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and you can’t develop truly great ballplayers without breaking bodies.”

By year’s end, the hardass ideologues at Koyaren had bitten the bullet and accepted modest pitch limits at its big national tournaments, the spring invitational and the summer finals.

For decades, reformers in Japan have sought to find a way to build strong young bodies, arms and elbows within a system that seems bent on destroying them. And just when it seemed like progress was only a few years away, the whole system crashes.

“We were going to take the first step into the future,” said Hatta, whose body for years had screamed and kicked in an effort to forestall that future.

Pandemic vs epidemic

Despite cleaner air, wildlife reclaiming suburban streets and Venetian canals, there is no bright side to the coronavirus pandemic. At best, it’s Alien vs Predator, where there’s little we can do but shelter in place and see what’s left.

The best thing about youth sports in Japan is the lack of travel teams and coaches selling parents that “the only way for their talented children to make it professionally is to specialize and practice the sport year-round.”

The bad things about youth sports in Japan is a school system that replicates the intense year-round physical burden of travel teams — without the need to go anywhere! Your children’s bodies can be pushed past the limits of endurance and given no time to recover at their school club activity. Year-round practice? You’ve got it.

I don’t mean to be flip, but amid the debris and human misery left in the wake of the pandemic will be young children in Japan whose bodies’ biggest need was the rest that school closures provided them.

Looking out for the kids

School closures were one reason given for canceling the national championships.

“Ballplayers who have lacked practice will be at a higher risk for injury,” Hatta said, again without any sense of irony in his voice.

Don’t forget that nine months ago, a high school coach was roasted nationwide for not starting his best pitcher in the final of Iwate Prefecture’s tournament, where a berth at the finals at Koshien Stadium was on the line. The manager did so to protect the youngster’s arm.

The line used by so many was, “I could see it if he WAS hurt, but this is Koshien! How dare you throw away his dream and that of his teammates on the grounds that it might save wear and tear on an arm (that had already seen extensive use over the past five days)?”

Summer HS championship faces cancellation

The Japan High School Baseball Federation will decide on Wednesday whether or not to cancel its 102nd national championship, Japan’s most iconic sports event, at Koshen Stadium in light of the current public health crisis.

The federation’s second-biggest tournament, March’s national invitational, was canceled.

From Friday, the government-issued state of emergency was lifted in 39 prefectures. The Nikkan Sports reports that 20 of the 35 prefectural federations that replied to their inquiries indicated they will hold their annual summer tournaments regardless of whether the national championships are held or not.

According to the report, Tokyo’s federation is still planning to hold its tournament in some form.

Takashi Kashiwada’s Story

Pitcher Takashi Kashiwada turned 48 on Thursday. In 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, the lefty went 4-2 with 1 save in 203 career games. More interestingly, he spent the 1997 season with the New York Mets, where he went 3-1 with a 1.69 WHIP in 35 games.

Takashi Kashiwada

There was nothing overly special about Kashiwada except that through the 1999 season, he was 1-4 over 80 games in Japan. His lone major league season was the result of Bobby Valentine making a point.

The experiment

Kashiwada went to the Mets because Valentine wanted to demonstrate that the talent level in Japan was much higher than people — even Japanese baseball people — believed. He wanted to show that even players who were not valued very highly here could contribute in the majors. To pull this off, he went to Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima and asked him for some surplus talent whom he had no expectations for in 1997.

“He suggested three guys, and I thought Kashiwada had the best chance, so we borrowed him for a year,” Valentine said a few years later. “I used him in situations where I thought he could succeed and he did well for us.”

Kashiwada returned to the shadows the following season, although between 1999 and 2000 he did pitch in 85-2/3 innings over 102 games for the Giants.

The story

But for years what I remembered about Kashiwada was that he won one game in Japan before going to MLB, where he won three. After being ignominiously fired from as manager of the Lotte Marines after a successful 1995 season, Valentine kept coming back to Japan in the offseason. On one of those trips, I mentioned to him, incorrectly that Kashiwada still had only one win in Japan but three in MLB.

When Valentine held a press conference after returning to Japan to manage the Marines for the 2004 season, he made a point of repeating the erroneous story I’d passed to him to make his point about the quality of Japanese talent. When I realized my error, I made a point of apologizing for making him look like a liar the next time we spoke.

“Don’t worry about it,” Valentine said. “It was a good story.”

NPB goes viral: owners talk potential June, july starts

The Daily Sports reported Wednesday that a meeting of Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners discussed three potential starting dates for a 2020 season that has been indefinitely postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.

At an extraordinary meeting of the owners committee held online Tuesday, the participants confirmed that Monday’s meeting of team representatives had selected June 19, June 26 and July 3 as potential Opening Days.

The Yakult Swallows communications department released comments from president Tsuyoshi Kinugasa, who is serving as the team owner’s proxy. He said the June starts would permit about 120 games to be played per team, while the July date would limit the scheduled to around 100 while mentioning that each league’s postseason playoffs were likely out of the picture.

“We will take into account the players, the risks involved in travel, everything,” the statement said.

Kinugasa emphasized that decisions would be made based on the practicality once Japan’s current state of emergency has been lifted. He said scheduling as discussed at Monday’s meeting, would be simplified.

“Our team (based in Tokyo) might normally play a series in Hiroshima and then return to Tokyo to play the Yomiuri Giants, then have a day off before traveling to Osaka to play Hanshin.”

“Now if we play in Hiroshima, we must stop to play Hanshin and Chunichi (in Nagoya) before returning to Tokyo.”

He also mentioned the number of games that can be held, with “120 matches” being secured at the start of June 19th, which is the earliest possible date, and around 110 games when it was the latest on July 3rd. However, he also pointed out that the climax series will be tough regardless of which candidate day it is held.

WBC postponed again

The news out of the United States on Monday was that Major League Baseball has put the 2021 World Baseball Classic on hold due to the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Baseball America reported that MLB will look to schedule it in 2023.

No nation with the exception of perhaps Cuba places as much emphasis on the tournament as two-time champion Japan, but Nippon Professional Baseball was already interested in resolving the problem of a WBC next March, now that the Olympics have ostensibly been pushed into a 2021 time slot.

And though the WBC is a big deal in Japan, it is nothing compared to the Olympics, where Japan has repeatedly crashed and burned since pros were allowed to play in 2000. Being able to host the 2020 Olympics meant Japan could have another shot at a gold medal.

Japanese companies may line up to get a piece of the WBC sponsorship pie, but with a chance to play for an Olympic gold medal at home, NPB had to lay down a tarp to keep sponsors’ drool from staining the carpet.

Before the reality of the coronavirus was understood, NPB’s season was supposed to start on March 20, a week earlier than usual, take a three-week break for the Olympics, and finish two weeks late. When the International Olympic Committee informed Japan that there would be no Olympics this year, so that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could announce that he alone made the decision for the good of the world, NPB instantly began squawking about how the 2021 WBC would be a hindrance to its Olympic preparations.

So while Japan loves its WBC, losing it in 2021 is no big deal, especially if it is only postponed until 2023 as seems possible.

A postponement, as the title suggests, would be the tournament’s second, Japan having won the inaugural 2006 event and the second edition in 2009 after the first tournament was delayed a year due to organizing hassles, many related to Japan.

Jim Small, then the President of MLB Japan was the point man in negotiating Japan’s participation, but NPB needed nudging, and frankly lacked the competence to act in a timely fashion.

There are some who believe a word from Sadaharu Oh, then the manager of the Daiei Hawks, pushed Japanese baseball into taking a chance on the idea.

Although Oh said it wasn’t his doing, he admitted to being a proponent of the tournament while many suits in NPB were against it.

“There are a lot of conservative people in the game, and they were against change,” Oh said in November 2017. “But to grow the game, you need to take some chances. Those people eventually saw the light.”

In addition to those conservative elements, there was also the problem that NPB lacked competency. Because English is a necessity for international business, it’s common for people of minimal competence to be promoted to positions of responsibility simply because of their English proficiency. There are a lot of people in Japanese baseball who are both extremely competent in their jobs and good at English, but that is not always the case.

In the case of the WBC, much of the heavy lifting was done by a skilled speaker of English who is something of a wild card. Although possessed with an excellent memory and knowledge of the game, he is prone to say things that are not true, and is really no administrator.

This became really clear in 2005. Although Japan agreed to take part in the first WBC, NPB’s union had not been notified of it. When asked about the delay, secretary general at the time, Kazuo Hasegawa, claimed his organization had only signed a document “expressing interest.” It would be no exaggeration to say that every regular baseball writer in Japan knew where that story originated from.

Less than a year after the union’s first strike had forced NPB into abandoning its contraction plans in the summer of 2004, the union was surprised to learn that the owners had agreed to take part in the WBC without consulting the players.

Although the tournament was managed jointly by MLB and its union, Small said that the organizers made a conscious decision not to reach out to Japan’s union despite NPB’s incompetence and lack of leadership that brought on the 2004 labor crisis.

“We didn’t want to overstep,” Small said during the contentious summer of 2005. “We didn’t want to step on NPB’s toes. But in retrospect, we probably should have brought them into the discussion earlier.”

True colors

There is no mistaking that when the Japanese baseball world considers MLB, it generally sees things worth emulating. Owners see the profits, fans see the physical strength and splendid new ballparks, players see the elite working conditions and competition. Yet, that envy, is often tinted by the kind of racial narcissism that sees Japan’s extra practice and the dedication to small ball as a kind of purity that can rarely be fathomed by outsiders.

Having said that, there are areas where Japan is way ahead of the United States, and professional baseball’s response to the coronavirus illuminates that gap.

Taking a cue from Donald Trump, MLB has been leaking a steady stream of mixed messages, while exploiting the downside of the coronavirus to incite division in the labor force — moving toward a demand that the players take pay cuts and get back to work despite the risks.

No players in NPB have had their salaries docked, all are expected to take part in practice while social distancing.

While the Japanese government was going full steam toward opening the Tokyo Olympics on July 24 until the IOC pulled the plug, NPB, too, was setting new Opening Days for when it would ostensibly be safe to play before crowds. Unlike the United States, no TV network in Japan was proclaiming concern for the virus a hoax, nor did the prime minister ever downplay it as a threat.

Since the Olympics were put in stasis, Japan declared a state of emergency, and NPB began reciting the advice of medical experts, saying it was too early to say when the season would start. Rather than a sense that the health crisis will be accompanied by Ameican-style class warfare, Japanese baseball has remained, well Japanese.

While Japan’s response to the coronavirus has been mediocre, it has been far better than the United States’ effort. And while people in both countries may be looking toward baseball for a sense of optimism, at least baseball in Japan is moving forward toward doing that exactly that — without the extra baggage that MLB is bringing to the table.

NPB goes viral: All-Star eclipse

Nippon Professional Baseball declined to name a date to start its season on Monday after a meeting with their Japanese pro soccer counterparts and health experts but did cancel this year’s all-star series, the Daily Sports reported.

“I regret to announce that we have decided to cancel the All-Star series and the Fresh Star (minor league all-star) game,” commissioner Atsushi Saito said. “This was the 70th year of the competition. There’s no excuse we can offer to the fans who have waited so long and to those in the game.”

At the start of the press conference, Saito said, “It is difficult to determine the opening date at the present time.”

The 12 teams had been eying June 19 as a potential starting date, but could not pull the trigger.

“Even though we couldn’t decide on a date, there are around the world and in Japan, discussions going on about exit strategies. Over the next two weeks, we will carefully monitor the situation. We will make steady preparations and buildup so that we might be able to open the season in the middle of next month.

Although the number of new infections reported in Japan has declined somewhat, the health experts warned the pro sports executives that “the situation remains unpredictable.”

Japan’s season was set to start a week early this year, on March 20, and end two weeks late, to allow for a three-week Olympic break. Since that was abandoned early in March, NPB has twice announced new Opening Day dates only to see those, too, become untenable.

NPB goes viral: Kakefu argues for small ball

The website of Fukuoka broadcaster TV Nishinihon, which has been covering the debate over NPB expanding to 16 teams, published part of an interview with former Hanshin Tigers great Masayuki Kakefu, who would prefer 10 teams in NPB with a kind of minor league development system that is not run by the teams. You can find the article HERE.

“When I was manager of Hanshin’s farm team, I asked the front office why we don’t have a third team like the SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants do,” Kakefu told the interviewer, retired former Hawks and Tigers pitcher Chikafusa Ikeda. “They said, ‘The outlay for infrastructure and expenses add up to quite a lot over the course of the year, but are not worth it when you consider the low chances of any of those players contributing on the first team.”

By that logic, the Tigers wouldn’t have a farm team if they weren’t required by NPB rules to have one. And since the Tigers are historically bad at developing talent, it would make sense for them to believe that a third team would just mean more expenses for more players who would never have careers with them.

Kakefu doesn’t really give a reason why he thinks 10 teams are better than 12, other than asking whether fans want “more baseball or better baseball.”

In my opinion, like some other former Giants and Tigers players, he’s just being nostalgic for the days before the NPB draft when the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants could afford to pay full value for amateur talent and other teams could not.

An independent alternative

The easy way to handle expansion is to simply do away with the active-roster limit of four imported players. Kakefu’s idea that a level of minor league development not be owned by the team but somehow contracted out is an interesting one but probably makes no sense for anyone.

A dream alternative would be for NPB to have its clubs to reduce their rosters to about 30 players while allowing for player loans and for purchases at market value from fully professional independent minor leagues. Currently, there are over 1,000 players under contract with NPB teams. If four teams were added and needed only 30 players, there still would be plenty of players available to seed two or four smaller regional leagues. These clubs would compete for their own championships, sign their own players, develop their own markets and players, and sell surplus talent to other teams and other leagues.

This would mean a huge increase in the amount of affordable professional baseball in Japan and, I believe, in the quality of talent.

That’s my two yen on the subject for the time being at least.

Uehara: “MLB club flew me to U.S. as an amateur”

One of the stories of NPB’s 1998 amateur draft was Koji Uehara’s decision to turn down a reported $5 million offer from the Angels to stay in Japan and sign with the Yomiuri Giants, who–IF they abided by an NPB’s gentleman’s agreement–could only offer amateurs a total of 150 million yen in signing bonuses and 1st-year incentives.

Fifteen years ago, I asked Uehara about this and he said he did get an offer from an MLB team but they would only guarantee that he would start now lower than Double-A. He also said he was not confident living in an English-speaking environment and for those two reasons chose nine years of indentured servitude with the Giants.

The most likely answer to the riddle of why Uehara turned down more money in exchange for a guaranteed roster spot with the Giants was that he didn’t. The Giants, most believe simply offered him a lot more money. And as long as he paid his taxes on it or the Giants successfully hid it, then there would be no questions asked.

Anyway, to get back to Uehara’s “confession” published by Sports Nippon Annex HERE, he told Fuji Television that during his senior year in his 1998 summer vacation, an MLB club paid for his trip to the States.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “They paid for everything. I got to throw a little in the bullpen. They took me to a night game and I was really enthused. I was leaning toward signing with them.”

He didn’t, he said, because the team’s Asia scout told him, “Only come if you are 100 percent certain. If you’re not, you won’t make it.” Uehara said he had been 100 percent certain but the more he went over the idea with his parents that confidence eroded.

Water under the table

That doesn’t mean the Giants didn’t offer him more money. Clubs aren’t bound to the NPB bonus and incentive limits for amateurs, and in legal filings, have called them “just guidelines.” In 1993, the Giants successfully lobbied for a change to the draft rules that allowed players the right to turn down draft selections under certain circumstances. That started a huge market in under-the-table signing bonuses.

Some people said there was never any evidence for that, but it has come out in various ways. An accountant who was an acquaintance of a Dragons coach convinced a string of players that they could hide their unreported bonuses and avoid paying taxes on them.

Those players, including former national team manager Hiroki Kokubo, were arrested, convicted and suspended. Tsuneo Watanabe, the windbag president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and then “owner” of the Giants, lambasted the Dragons and Hawks for signing “tax cheats.” This was rich coming from Watanabe who is infamous for being a tax cheat.

When I was at the Daily Yomiuri, the company handed us all bank accounts at Fuji Bank, currently Mizuho, into which all our work expenses would be paid. But several of my Japanese coworkers received more than one account but were told never to touch the other one or worry about the sums of money going in and out of it. A likely explanation for those accounts was that they were used by the company to hide taxes by reporting non-existent business expenses.

writing & research on Japanese baseball

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