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Baseball chief Kato to step down in October

Kyodo

Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato announced Thursday his resignation to take the fall for the uproar over the secretly altered baseball.

The 72-year-old Kato, who was elected to a third two-year term in July last year, said he will quit after the regular season, which ends Oct. 6, but no later than Oct. 25 — the day before the Japan Series starts.

“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.

“I felt the faster we got off to a fresh start, the better. I still have a month, so I’d like to do whatever I can by then.”

No immediate announcement was made regarding Kato’s successor, nor the way in which the new commissioner would be chosen. An extraordinary owners’ meeting, however, has been set for Oct. 2.

The former Japanese ambassador to the United States had come under fire in June, when it was revealed that NPB had tweaked the specifics of the baseball used by its two leagues, making it a livelier ball.

Kato maintains he was never informed of the change, a confession which created ripples in and around baseball and called into question the authority of NPB’s chief executive.

A third-party panel investigating the coverup will submit a report by Sept. 27, it was decided by the owners on Thursday.

The players union sought his resignation, but Kato had steadfastly refused to step down. While the players got what they wanted in the end, they were confused over the timing of Kato’s announcement to say the least.

“We’re in the thick of the pennant race when it gets most exciting, and you really have to wonder about the timing of it all. Why now?” said ex-union chief Takahiro Arai of the Hanshin Tigers.

“Whoever it is next, we’d like it to be someone who can exercise strong leadership as the union has demanded all along.”

The government urged Japanese baseball to get its act together.

“Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “We’d like to see the fans treated with respect, and we expect the officialdom in baseball to work hard in further improving the game.”