Embattled Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato says the baseball secretly altered by the Japanese league this season has nothing to do with the record-chasing 52 home runs hit by Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien.
“I doubt the ball really has anything to do with it. He is hitting that many because he has become used to (Japanese pitchers),” Kato told reporters Monday.
This season, Japanese baseball has seen a marked increase in the number of home runs hit using the livelier ball.
Balentien last Friday hit his 52nd home run of the season, moving to within three of NPB’s record of 55. There are still 28 games remaining for him to break the record.
“To be hitting over 50 homers at the end of August is amazing,” said Kato. “I hope he (Balentien) avoids injury and plays in all of the remaining games and increases the overall number of home runs.”
Japan’s single-season record of 55 was set by Sadaharu Oh in 1964 and has been equaled twice, by American Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 and Venezuelan Alex Cabrera the following season. Each time, the mark was achieved in a 140-game season.
A third-party panel investigating why NPB altered its baseballs in secret is set to produce a report on the scandal at the end of September.