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[j-ball] January 5 -- Japanese baseball news

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  • Dan Latham
    Just a reminder that we re halfway through the off-season, so here s some of what s been going on over the quiet months. For the rest of the news, including
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 1999
      Just a reminder that we're halfway through the off-season, so here's
      some of what's been going on over the quiet months.

      For the rest of the news, including team reports, please follow your
      mouse to...

      By the way, if you have a chance to get a copy of the January 1, 1999
      Daily Yomiuri, there's a terrific article inside about Masao Kida written
      by Jim Allen.

      Dan Latham

      January 5, 1999


      In early December, sports papers across Japan began splashing headlines
      alleging that three Fukuoka Daiei Hawks player participated in a scheme to
      steal signs from opponents. A subsequent in-house investigation by the
      Hawks found no evidence of wrongdoing, but popular mistrust of the
      findings and the aroma of a cover-up prompted the Pacific League to
      organize its own independent investigation, which is still underway.

      According to published reports, the intricate scheme included at least
      three people in addition to the players. One person operated a television
      camera located near the Fukuoka Dome's center field scoreboard while a
      team official watched the catchers' signs on closed-circuit television. In
      turn, the official would communicate by walkie-talkie with a college
      student seated in the center field stands. Depending on how the student
      held the megaphone, according to the allegations, he could inform the
      batter what pitch would come next. If, for example, he held the megaphone
      in front of his face, the pitch might be a fastball, but if he held it
      over his right shoulder, the next pitch would be a slider or a curve.

      According to the allegations, the scheme was employed from May 1997 to
      June 1998. The three Hawks players accused of participating in the scheme
      were designated hitter Koichiro Yoshinaga, infielder Shikato Yanagita and
      outfielder Noriyoshi Omichi. All have denied wrongdoing.

      The day after the story broke, Daiei outfielder Koji Akiyama expressed
      profound skepticism about the reports, saying that it would be nearly
      impossible for a player to watch for signs in the center field bleachers
      while concentrating on the pitcher's delivery. According to the
      allegations, the student holding the megaphone, which is slightly smaller
      than a plastic two-liter soft drink bottle, was seated in a crowded area
      over 150 meters (nearly 500 feet) from home plate and surrounded by others
      holding similar megaphones. A player would have to have extremely keen
      vision to locate a single person at that distance, much less identify how
      he was holding a megaphone.

      In their investigation, the Hawks said they tried to recreate the scheme
      but found it nearly impossible to do. Any reasonable person would likely
      agree. However, in their rush to bring the investigation to a quick
      conclusion, the Hawks failed to interview either the official or the
      college student allegedly involved, casting suspicion on the inquiry.

      Three days later, on December 14, the Pacific League announced that it
      would set up an independent three-person panel to investigate the
      sign-stealing allegations. Within one week, the league announced the
      candidates who had been selected for the committee: former Chiba Lotte
      Marines general manager Tatsuro Hirooka, former Prosecutor General Eiichi
      Kakei and Teikyo Heisei University professor Moriyuki Torii.

      The panel met for the first time on December 25 to hear the Pacific
      League's report of the known facts. While Kakei noted that the case would
      be extremely difficult to investigate, he pledged that the panel would
      travel to Fukuoka if needed. The panel is scheduled to meet again on
      January 7 before reaching a conclusion later this month.


      Masao Kida recently signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers, making him
      the latest Japanese pitcher to test his arm against major league
      opponents. But the fastball pitcher will not be the only Japanese hurler
      crossing the Pacific this year. Last month, the Boston Red Sox announced
      that they had acquired pitcher Tomokazu Oka, who had been recently
      released by the Yokohama BayStars.

      Oka, a 22-year-old, compiled a 1-2 record and 5.65 career ERA in 34 games
      with Yokohama from 1994-1998. Appearing on the team's minor league squad
      in 1998, the right-hander posted a 7-8 record with 2 saves, a 2.70 ERA and
      98 strikeouts in 126 2/3 innings. Yokohama's no. 3 pick in the 1993 draft,
      Oka never lived up to the team's expectations.

      Meanwhile, several players with Japan league-experience have been in the
      news. Former Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Rob Ducey has inked a contract
      with the Phillies while the Nikkan Sports has reported that 1998 Hanshin
      third baseman Dave Hansen will wear Dodger blue next season. Ex-Hanshin
      players Scott Coolbaugh and Desi Wilson have both signed minor league
      contracts with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lenn Sakata, a former coach with
      the Chiba Lotte Marines, will manage the San Jose Giants next season. And
      Robinson Checo, a once highly-touted prospect in the Carp organization
      before he bolted Hiroshima, has been released by the Boston Red Sox.


      A much anticipated agreement between Japanese and Major League Baseball
      was finally reached last month which offers a guideline for big league
      teams hoping to acquire Japanese players. Under the new accord, Japanese
      free agents would be able to cross the Pacific as they have in the past.
      But players still under contract or reserve clauses would auctioned to the
      highest bidder.

      Here's how the system would work. A Japanese team wishing to auction a
      player will have the option of posting his availability between November 1
      and March 1 for the following season. Within four days, any major league
      team interested in the player could submit a bid to the MLB commissioner,
      which would represent the money paid to the Japanese teams for the
      exclusive negotiating rights with the player. Unless the team which places
      the highest bid signs the player in 30 days, his rights revert back to the
      Japanese team. The player will then have to wait one year before the
      process can be started again.

      While no agreement is perfect, one flaw in the new plan is that it will
      prohibit small-market teams from signing Japanese players. Nor would
      players have much choice over which teams they could join. The plan would
      also, apparently, forbid Japanese and major league teams from engaging in
      player trades. Moreover, the pact appears to be silent on other key
      points, such as whether foreign players are bound by the agreement. Nor
      does the agreement stipulate terms by which major league teams can
      negotiate with amateur players, or players that have been drafted but
      refused to sign with their teams. Without clear wording on these issues,
      chaos will likely follow.


      Just one week after the Yokohama BayStars made Kazuhiro Sasaki the largest
      monetary deal in Japanese baseball history, a 480 million yen pact for one
      year, the Orix BlueWave reached an agreement with Ichiro Suzuki worth an
      estimated 500 million yen. The three-time MVP earned an unprecedented
      fifth straight batting title in 1998 and has apparently gained the
      attention of several major league teams, making him one of the likeliest
      players to benefit from the new MLB/JPB bidding agreement.

      Meanwhile, Yomiuri Giants center fielder Hideki Matsui signed a 280
      million yen deal -- a 60 million yen raise -- less than three months after
      earning his first home run crown. Depending on which story you believe,
      Matsui was either grateful for the Giants generosity or miffed at their

      In a story that appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun, the newspaper that owns
      the Giants, Matsui was portrayed as willing to accept any deal: "I wasn't
      going to haggle over getting more (money)." But a Kyodo wire story that
      appeared in the Asahi Evening News the same day portrayed him as clearly
      disappointed, saying, "There was no genuine assessment (of last year) and
      nothing was said about my numbers. . . Well, maybe I'll get there (to 300
      million yen) next year."

      Matsui is apparently not the only player feeling he was paid below his
      value. Several other players have rejected their teams' offers, deciding
      to hold out for more money. Among them are Tigers first baseman Yasuaki
      Taiho, Yakult infielder Takehiro Ikeyama and pitchers Tomohito Ito and
      Kenjiro Kawasaki, Giants pitcher Yusaku Iriki and infielder Daisuke Motoki
      and several others. Yokohama outfielder Takanori Suzuki and pitcher
      Takashi Saito were among several BayStars' players who evidently felt that
      Sasaki should not be the only one rewarded for the team's championship
      season. Even middle reliever Hideyuki Awano (4-1, 4.67 ERA) came to the
      table demanding a raise. Surprisingly, he got it.

      Along with Awano, several other players have recently received hefty pay
      raises. Though he balked at the team's first offer, Lions MVP shortstop
      Kazuo Matsui eventually inked a deal worth 135 million yen. Hiroshima
      reliever Kanei Kobayashi received the largest raise for a rookie in team
      history, a 30 million yen contract which tripled his earlier salary.
      Pacific League Rookie of the Year Tatsuya Ozeki inked also inked a 30
      million yen deal, a deal five times larger than his previous contract. A
      week after 1998 Central League Rookie of the Year Kenshin Kawakami signed
      a contract for 43 million yen with the Chunichi Dragons, Yomiuiri's
      Yoshinobu Takahashi inked a 40 million pact with the Giants. For both
      rookies, the new deals represented 30 million yen pay raises.

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