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Under-the-table pep-talk payments put NPB in hot water amid betting scandals

Kyodo

The Pacific League on Wednesday announced it will hold an emergency session of its board of directors after two of its clubs, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Seibu Lions, admitted that players exchanged cash after wins and losses.

A week after the specter of players betting on baseball reared its head for the second time in five months, Nippon Professional Baseball has been busy prostrating itself over the practice of players exchanging small amounts of money.

On Tuesday, the Lions became the third team to admit to the practice of players paying teammates who gave a pregame pep talk before wins, while the two-time defending league and Japan Series champion Hawks admitted doing the same on Wednesday.

“It’s very regrettable that it has come to this,” said Hawks reliever Ryota Igarashi, who said he believed similar practices were fairly widespread in Japanese baseball.

The practice was confirmed by NPB last autumn during its investigation into the admitted gambling of three Yomiuri Giants pitchers — who have all received indefinite bans from baseball. Yet at the time, NPB decided no disclosure was necessary as the amounts exchanged were trivial and the practice did not violate any rules.

But the choice to remain silent became a painful thorn after a fourth Giants pitcher, Kyosuke Takagi, came forward to admit he, too, had bet on professional baseball games.

Suddenly, the practice of koedashi — giving a pep talk in a pregame huddle and receiving a pot of cash after a win from teammates — has come under fire.

On Tuesday, the Central League scheduled an emergency meeting of its board of directors for Thursday. The PL has also succumbed to the need to address the issue with its own meeting, slated for Friday.

“People are directing an accusing eye at the baseball world,” Lions manager Norio Tanabe said Wednesday at Seibu Prince Dome in Saitama Prefecture. “We need to straighten up and fly right.”

Lions players rep Ginjiro Sumitani said, “From now on, it (koedashi) will be prohibited.”

After his team’s admission, Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said baseball is an endeavor for the fans and their approval is vital.

“It seems harmless, but if the public sees it as a problem, the players need to do something about that,” Kudo said. “We can accept that and move on.”

In the case of the Giants — whose practice dates back to 2012 — position players and pitchers would huddle separately. If the team won, each teammate gave ¥5,000 to the speaker, whose speech ostensibly inspired them to victory.

In the case of a loss, the player making the speech would pay each member of his group ¥1,000.

A similar ritual has taken place among the position players of the CL-rival Hanshin Tigers, whose pot began after a pregame speaker’s motivational talk led to three straight wins. The Lions’ version consists of the winning speaker being paid ¥1,000 by each teammate and paying out ¥500 in the event of a loss.

Months after NPB decided koedashi was not worth mentioning, NPB Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki said Tuesday it was intolerable.

“Even though this does not qualify as a violation of the baseball charter, we cannot permit it,” Kumazaki said. “It was one of the root causes of the gambling scandal involving Giants pitchers.”

Yet, NPB teams have a long tradition of making under-the-table cash payments to players after wins — when key contributors traditionally receive cash bonuses. The total value of “fight money” handed out after wins reportedly varies from club to club.

In 2009, when the Chiba Lotte Marines’ top management tried to drive manager Bobby Valentine from their ranks, the former skipper said one of the numerous ploys used to undermine him was the elimination of his fight-money budget.

An executive with one club who declined to be named told Kyodo News that handing cash to players — outside their contractual terms — is prohibited by NPB rules, but his team had found a way to be in compliance by calling it a contractual “incentive” and distributing the rewards via bank transfer.