The sad-looking older man in the photo is Ryozo Kato, a three-term commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball. In the wake of former major leaguer Wladimir Balentien breaking Japan's home run record, Kato has resigned over a juicing scandal. Not because of players juicing, but instead because of an apparently livelier ball that was kept secret.
A former ambassador to the United States, Kato announced his resignation Friday, to be effective at the end of the season Oct. 6. Kato had denied having prior knowledge of the league's balls being altered, saying in June that NPB secretary general Kunio Shimoda was responsible for making changes — but also that Shimodo did nothing wrong by not saying anything.
Also, as Balentien was in the process of surpassing Sadaharu Oh's 49-year-old home-run mark of 55, Kato denied that Balentien's increased power output had to do with a livelier ball. Home runs across the league reportedly have risen sharply, and Balentien has 58 of them with about two weeks to go in the regular season.
Kato's denials, even if truthful and made with good intentions, made him appear to be a weak commissioner with his head in the sand.
Via the Kyodo News (in a report mostly blocked by a paywall), Kato said:
"I caused a lot of problems over the ball, and that was a huge reason for my decision," Kato said following an owners' meeting at which he relayed his resignation to the 12 teams.
It's funny, but if a similar scandal had unfolded here, in Major League Baseball, the commissioner would have threatened to suspend some of the livelier baseballs for life if they didn't cooperate with authorities.
The issue in Japan hasn't been that NPB introduced a livelier ball, just that the league didn't inform anyone — most notably the players, whose union demanded an investigation after word began to leak. A third-party investigation is supposed to reveal its findings by the end of September.
This is how the scandal was explained in the Japan Times in June:
According to Shimoda’s lieutenant, Atsushi Ihara, only he, Shimoda and two officials of the ball’s manufacturer, Mizuno Corp., knew of the changes that were ordered last year.
Following routine tests of balls used by NPB’s 12 teams last year, too many balls tested were not lively enough to meet the standards set by the Baseball Charter. Shimoda said he asked Mizuno if the ball could be modified for 2013.
Norihito Kubota, who heads the company’s global equipment project team, said the composition of the rubber surrounding the ball’s core was changed to make it more lively.
“The rubber is a mixture of natural rubber and low-impact rubber,” Kubota said. “The actual percentage is a trade secret but we decreased the amount of low-impact rubber considerably.”
Shimoda said he decided not to announce the change to “prevent confusion.”
If all of that is true, and a lot of it rings true, the obvious mistake came in the coverup and a general lack of transparency. Shimoda appeared to think he could do whatever he wanted in the so-called "best interest of the league," without consulting the commissioner — or the players, who Kato said are considered "partners." Heck, it appears the owners didn't even know. And it's because the commissioner apparently let it all happen.
It's bizarre to think these men in charge didn't realize a livelier ball would have meant more home runs, which would be a dead giveaway that something was different. Again, if it happened here, many would think a home-run surge was because of performance-enhancing drugs. It just couldn't be because of anything else, oh, no. Not in 1987, or in '94, or any other season that had a huge uptick. Ball composition, stadium size, player strength, ebb and flow — all factor in.
So that's something for fans of North American baseball to consider as Bud Selig continues his born-again crusade against PEDs.