Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A number of Japanese baseball players were found to have been taking money from organized crime figures in Japan to intentionally lose baseball games. Those involved, many in the prime of their careers, faced pay cuts, long-term suspensions, and, in some cases, lifetime bans from the sport.

Summary of Event

In October, 1969, late in the Japanese baseball season, Masayuki Nagayasu, a pitcher for the Nishitetsu Lions, was sent to the minor leagues. Nagayasu was not a star but he was having a solid, successful year. A puzzled journalist asked a Lions official why the apparently uninjured, reasonably effective Nagayasu was sent to the minor leagues during the season. The official told him that Nagayasu was suspected of associating with gamblers in a game-fixing scheme. It is likely the team official did not try to hide the suspicion, despite its potential for embarrassing the Lions, because he believed that the reporter already was aware of the rumors and would do as most Japanese sports reporters did in those times: hold the story and possibly publish later. However, this would not be the case with the Nagayasu story. [kw]Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing, Japanese (Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971) Baseball;game fixing Baseball;Japanese Black Mist scandal Nagayasu, Masayuki Ikenaga, Masaaki Ogawa, Kentaro Tanaka, Tsutomu Baseball;game fixing Baseball;Japanese Black Mist scandal Nagayasu, Masayuki Ikenaga, Masaaki Ogawa, Kentaro Tanaka, Tsutomu [g]Asia;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310] [g]Japan;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310] [c]Corruption;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310] [c]Gambling;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310] [c]Sports;Fall, 1969-Winter, 1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing[01310]

Traditionally, in Japan, sports reporters needed the cooperation of team officials to do their job, so they seldom reported embarrassing news about the teams or their players. However, in the case of Nagayasu, protocol was broken, and the newspaper published news of the pitcher’s gambling connection. Reporters began probing for other culprits. However, some believe the story was published not to report on the gambling but to compromise the integrity of the Lions so that the Yomiuri Giants, owned by the newspaper for which the reporter worked, could annex the Lions’ home ground.

The Lions claimed Nagayasu was the only team member involved with gambling, and later that fall, league officials banned him from the league for life. It appeared the saga was finished. However, in April, 1970, Nagayasu revealed the names of several other Lions players who had taken money in the scheme. Game throwing for money in Japan was not new. An official with the Kintetsu Buffaloes admitted that he had unwillingly participated in game fixing as a player during the early 1960’s.

Sports gamblers tend to concentrate their efforts on the players with greatest control of a game’s outcome, so they deal primarily with pitchers. Several Lions pitchers were under suspicion, including Nagayasu, Masaaki Ikenaga, and Tsutomu Tanaka. A Lions catcher and two infielders also were questioned. The investigation did not stop with the Lions; two Toei Flyers pitchers were questioned as well.

Ikenaga, one of the league’s best pitchers, who was looking forward to a bright future in baseball, was the premier player involved in the scandal. He was the league’s rookie of the year in 1965 and, at the age of twenty-three, had already won twenty or more games in three different years. At the time he was banned from the sport, his career record was one hundred three wins and sixty-five losses.

In the spring of 1970, a race-car driver who had been under investigation for fixing races turned informant and exposed the participation of baseball players in fixing car races. Other pitchers were apprehended, including Tanaka of the Lions and Kentaro Ogawa of the Dragons. In 1967, Ogawa won the Sawamura Award, the Cy Young Award of Japanese baseball, given to the best starting pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) each year. The award was named for Eiji Sawamura. As a teenage amateur player facing a team of major leaguers from the United States in 1934, Sawamura struck out four future Hall of Fame players (Charley Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, and Lou Gehrig) in succession. Ogawa won twenty-nine games, lost twelve, and had an earned run average of 2.51 the year he won the award. At the time of the scandal, he was well established as one of the NPB’s best pitchers.

A Hanshin Tiger infielder also was suspected of having a role in race fixing. The gambling schemes all had a central criminal element, the yakuza, or Japanese mafia, and became so widespread that they were given the same collective name as the post-World War II Japanese political scandal called Black Mist.

Into February, 1971, the convicted ballplayers received varying degrees of punishment. Punishments depended on the depth of a player’s involvement in game fixing. Some received severe warnings, others were suspended for a season, and at least six were suspended from NPB for life. The life suspensions may have followed the example set by American baseball commissioner Landis, Kenesaw Mountain Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who punished the eight Chicago White Sox Black Sox scandal players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. They were banned for life even though they were not criminally convicted.

Other interesting similarities exist between the game-fixing scandals in Japan in 1969 and the United States in 1919. First, in Japan, Ikenaga and Ogawa were among the group banned for life, and their suspensions were perhaps the most tragic. Ikenaga’s expected great career came to an abrupt end, paralleling the fate of Jackson, Shoeless Joe Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the best players in the history of American baseball. Jackson’s career was truncated near its peak by his part in the Black Sox Chicago White Sox Black Sox scandal scandal.

Ikenaga appealed the decision to ban him for life, declaring that he never played to lose. In his defense, is should be noted that he won eighteen games in 1969, an excellent achievement for one season. However, he kept the one million yen given to him by Tanaka to participate in the scheme. For that reason he was banned from Japanese baseball. In the 1919 scandal, Jackson had sworn that he played his best in the 1919 World Series, in which he batted .375, an exceptionally high average. However, like Ikenaga, he kept the money he was given to participate in the fix, and he was held accountable for doing so.

In 2005, the rules of professional baseball in Japan were amended to make lifetime bans revocable for players who showed remorse and exemplary behavior for a minimum of fifteen years. Also in 2005, thirty-five years after his banishment from the sport, Ikenaga was reinstated. Long past his playing prime, Ikenaga planned to use his reinstatement to coach college baseball.

Impact

The scandal was far reaching, affecting players, teams, and the whole of Japanese baseball. The financial loss to the players who were banned for life, though appreciable, probably came second in a society that considers the loss of one’s reputation and losing the respect of others far more significant than the loss of money.

After the scandal came to light, a number of teams were sold and relocated. The Nishitetsu Lions moved and became the Seibu Lions and the Toei Flyers became the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Also, many fans stayed away from baseball altogether, leading to plummeting attendance after the disclosures. However, baseball in Japan eventually recovered. Just as Babe Ruth and his home runs are credited with bringing American baseball fans back to the game after the Black Sox Black Sox scandal scandal, Sadaharu Oh’s pursuit of professional baseball’s home-run record through the 1970’s helped draw fans back to Japanese ballparks.

One anticipated outcome of the scandal, learning from the mistakes of others, failed to materialize. In 1990, several Yomiuri Giant Coaches;baseball coaches and players were convicted of accepting inappropriate gifts, some from persons with gambling connections. The team was fined the equivalent of $125,000 for the infractions. American player Pete Rose, who had 4,256 career base hits, a record, was found to have bet on baseball games and was banned from baseball in 1989 for life and excluded from Hall of Fame consideration. Baseball;game fixing Baseball;Japanese Black Mist scandal Nagayasu, Masayuki Ikenaga, Masaaki Ogawa, Kentaro Tanaka, Tsutomu

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ginsberg, Daniel E. The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals. New York: McFarland, 2004. A valuable overview of a neglected component of baseball history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kuehnert, Marty. “Scandals: Black Sox, Black Mist.” Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), August 23, 1992. An English-language article on the parallels between the Black Sox and Black Mist scandals. Focuses on Masaaki Ikenaga.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“’Lifetime’ Ban Lifted for Former Lions Pitcher.” Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), April 26, 2005. Brief article, in English, on Masaaki Ikenaga’s reinstatement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">West, Mark D. Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Pages 211 to 217 examine scandals in sports in the United States and Japan and include a brief comparison of the Black Mist and Black Sox scandals.

White Sox Players Conspire to Lose World Series in “Black Sox” Scandal

Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker Are Accused of Fixing Baseball Games

Baseball Manager Leo Durocher Is Suspended for Gambling Ties

U.S. Senate Committee Begins Investigating Organized Crime

Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties

Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth Suspends Players for Cocaine Use

Pete Rose Is Banned from Baseball for Betting on Games

Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use

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