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Skewed results not limited to sumo

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Skewed results not limited to sumo

by Rob Smaal (Mar 14, 2011)

The following news item moved last week, and at first glance it seems a bit ridiculous.

Apparently, the NPB let the league's managers, coaches, players and umpires know that friendly banter between opposing players during games--and even prior to games--would no longer be acceptable, citing Section 3.09 of the NPB rulebook. That means no more talking or whispering between opponents once the fans are in place, no more friendly "How's it going?" chats between first basemen and opposing baserunners, something that has been a common occurrence in the game for decades.

As mentioned earlier, this looks on the surface like just another move to take a little more joy out of the game. It is overkill, without a doubt, but the NPB likely wants to remove any appearances of impropriety in light of the sumo bout-rigging and baseball-betting scandals currently wracking that sport.

While match-fixing in sumo has reportedly been going on for hundreds of years, baseball--in this country, at least--has not experienced any serious accusations of manipulation since the game-fixing "Black Mist Scandal" of 1969-71 resulted in six players getting banned for life from the game. (One of them, pitcher Masaaki Ikenaga, eventually had his ban lifted in 2005.)

"Manipulation," however, is open to interpretation. It is a common practice in Japanese baseball for outgoing stars to get pitches grooved to them in the final games of their careers, allowing them to walk off into the sunset on the back of a base hit.

While these acts are unlikely to alter the outcome of a game, they are examples of players competing against one another in less-than-all-out fashion, as the paying customer has a right to expect. (Although, admittedly, the paying customers are often the ones most enjoying seeing their heroes come through one last time, staged as it may be.)

And there are plenty of other examples of shady goings-on in Japanese baseball. A few years back, a Central League pitcher was going for the league strikeout title and he needed 10 more to catch the guy in front of him. It was the final game of the regular season so it was his last opportunity.

The game that day deteriorated into a farce, with infielders avoiding making outs on groundballs, getting to them "late," to give the hurler more opportunities to get his strikeouts. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the pitcher was still three Ks shy so his catcher politely asked opposing batters if they wouldn't mind striking out, according to a reliable source.

The pitcher got his three strikeouts. Although there is no evidence he didn't earn them legitimately, it does make you wonder.

In another instance, a CL pitcher was asked by one of his own coaches in a late-season game to throw a few fastballs right down the pipe so an opposing batter could bunt his way on and boost his batting average to .300 for the year.

The deal was he would bunt his way on and then allow the pitcher to pick him off at first base, which is exactly what happened.

Major crimes against sports integrity? Maybe not, but it is a slippery slope.

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