I have been reading with interest about the gambling scandal in professional baseball. Kyojin farm team pitcher Fukuda has admitted he bet on baseball and has lost a considerable amount of money at it in the process. A couple of weeks later, two other players on the ni-gun (the farm team) followed suit. An investigation is underway and, although nothing more than gambling has been proven, comparisons have been made to the Black Mist game fixing scandals of 1969-1971 when several star players received long suspensions, salary cuts or were banned from professional play entirely.
The Black Mist scandals started in October of 1969 when the Nishitetsu Lions' front office discovered pitcher Masayuki Nagayasu had been taking bribes from an organized crime family to throw games. Nagayasu was banned from baseball for life. The following spring, Nagayasu revealed that seven of his teammates were also involved in game-fixing.
Subsequently, ten NPB players, coaches and executives - including star pitchers Masaaki Ikenaga, Kentaro Ogawa and Tsutomu Tanaka - were banned from professional baseball for life.
Ikenaga claimed to be uninvolved but had not returned the 1 million yen he had received from a former teammate to cheat. *
In subsequent months, Kintetsu star Masahiro Doi was suspended for illegal gambling for a month. Hanshin pitcher Yutaka Enatsu was suspended for associating with "persons involved in baseball gambling.
The resulting abandonment of baseball by many fans in Japan also led to the sale of such famous teams as the Nishitetsu Lions and the Toei Flyers (now the Seibu Lions and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters). The term "Black Mist" was a reference to a political scandal that had that had enveloped the Sato Eisaku administration in 1966-1967.
In America, of course, we have the example of the New York gambler Arnold Rothstein who bribed Chicago White Sox players to fixing the World Series - earning the team the eternal nickname of "Chicago Black Sox."
Pete Rose, all-time leading hit maker was banned from baseball for life for betting on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
It is extremely difficult to fix a baseball game. I am told it takes four people. A pitcher, a catcher, a middle infielder and an outfield to affected the outcome. Former Hanshin Tiger outfielder George Altman once told me has was offered 500,000 yen to help fix a game and cause the Tigers to lose. He said he turned it down.
A retired member of the Inagawa-kai I know told me some months ago that these days gambling on baseball is quite popular. "There is lots and lots of gambling on baseball going on," he said. It used to be that you could spot a bookie outside a baseball stadium if you wanted to make a bet, and there were also coffee shops, betting parlors and underground casinos where gambling aficionados can go.
But these days, in the cell phone era, it's become much much simpler.
You get a phone number to call, you place your call, you make a bet, 10,000 yen on Kyojin to win. If you lose, you deposit your 10,000 yen in a honnin account. If you win, you get 9,000 yen deposited in a bank account of your choosing.
Each day one game out of the six scheduled Central and Pacific League contests is chosen for bets.
He also told me that 10-30 games a year are fixed - not "kachi-make" – but say, a situation in which the starting pitcher gives one run in the 7th inning. That's all. You bet 10,000 yen that the run will score, and if you win, you get say 27,000 yen.
I pressed him for details. "Tell me one game that was fixed this year." But he looked at me as if I was crazy.
"Gaijin-san," he said, "I have already said enough."
However, he did go on to say that what makes "yaocho" possible in Japanese professional baseball is the Sempai-Kohai relationship. Lots of retired ballplayers get involved with the yakuza and drift toward gambling and other underworld pursuits. The Sempai can approach former kohai and say "I need a favor. I did a lot for you. So help me out this time."
"In Japan that works," he said.
I don't know if what he said is true or not, but I do remember as a university student long ago I did used to bet lightly on pro baseball games at a snack bar in Higashi Nakano. I'd bet on the Hanshin Tigers to beat Kyojin and usually lose.
I also bet against Enatsu Yutaka when he publicly vowed he would strike out Sadaharu Oh to break Inao Kazuhisa's single season strikeout record. In that game at Koshien Stadium which I watched on TV, he struck out Oh to tie the record in the first inning.
Then he retired the next 8 batters in a row on ground ball outs.
Then struck out Oh to break the record.
It was an amazing feat of pitching. Or perhaps he had help. I don't know. Either way I wound up losing the bet.
I don't know what the future holds for this present baseball gambling investigation, but I am willing to be that it doesn't end with Mr. Fukuda and friends.
There is a lot more coming down the road.
* Ikenaga maintained his innocence and fiercely contested the banning. His case was not taken up by NPB until March 2005 when commissioner Yasuchika Negoro and team owners agreed on a bylaw that allowed banned players who have reformed to petition for a removal of the ban. Ikenaga requested a removal soon afterwards and on April 25, 2005 he was allowed to return to baseball.