As Spring training get underway on both sides of the Pacific, Japan's most famous baseball team is embroiled in a betting scandal...four of the team's pitchers have admitted betting on baseball, and now three team executives have resigned, including a powerful newspaper publisher. More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Tsuneo Watanabe is listed as Supreme Adviser of the Yomiuri Giants, the team usually described as the Japanese equivalent to the New York Yankees. He's considered the most powerful individual in Japanese Pro ball - he's also chairman of Yomiuri Shimbun, the country's biggest newspaper and the team's corporate parent.
Last fall, three Giants pitchers admitted to betting on baseball, then just this week a fourth also confessed. At least one of the players admitted that he bet on Giants games, though not on games where he was scheduled to pitch.
A hundred years ago, betting by American players was rampant in Major League Baseball. In 1919, players on the Chicago White Sox admitted taking bribes to throw the World Series.
While Japan's scandal doesn't reach the same level, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga did feel strongly enough to bring it up at a news conference this week...he called betting by players an extremely serious problem, and an act that betrays the fans. The three players who confessed last fall received indefinite suspensions, the fourth can expect the same.
Baseball has been popular in Japan since it's introduction in 1872 and took off after 1934 when a Japanese all-star squad played against a group of touring Americans that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. Baseball is now the most watched sport in Japan, and not just on the professional level....the annual high school tournament is something close to a national obsession.