Fukuda gambling incident not on par with 'Black Mist Scandal'

by Wayne Graczyk

The Yomiuri Giants did not need a gambling scandal hovering over the team’s preparation for the Central League Climax Series, which began Saturday against the Hanshin Tigers. But early this past week that is what they got.

Giants second-team pitcher Satoshi Fukuda was found to have bet on games, and the team indicated all its players would be questioned in the aftermath of the Fukuda revelation.

Hopefully for the Giants and their fans, no other players will be found of wrongdoing, but the incident brings to mind another infamous episode involving money — the biggest in Japanese baseball history. Known as the “Black Mist Scandal,” it took place between 1969 and 1971 when several players, including star pitchers of the Nishitetsu Lions and other Pacific League teams, were punished for accepting money to throw games.

That saga began on Oct. 8, 1969, when Japanese sports newspapers reported the Nishitetsu front office confirmed pitcher Masayuki Nagayasu had accepted bribes from members of an organized crime family. Nagayasu was released following that season and later banned for life by Japanese baseball.

In April of 1970, Nagayasu claimed seven of his ex-Nishitetsu teammates were also in on the game-fixing, with the most prominent player being Lions ace pitcher Masaaki Ikenaga. Two months later, Ikenaga and fellow Nishitetsu pitchers Yoshinobu Yoda and Akio Masuda were also banished for life by the Japanese baseball commissioner’s office.

Later that year, players and front office personnel from the Toei Flyers, Kintetsu Buffaloes and Hanshin Tigers were also reprimanded, suspended for a time or disqualified for life from working in Japanese baseball. Ten individuals received the lifetime ban.

Ikenaga was an immediate star in Japanese baseball, having won 20 games in his rookie season in 1965 at the age of 18. He was 23-14 in 1967 and 23-13 in 1968. During his final year in 1969, he was 18-11, and it appeared he would go on, barring injury, to become one of the game’s greatest pitchers of all time.

Instead, his talent was wasted, and he never pitched again for Nishitetsu or any other Central or Pacific League team. He was finally reinstated and allowed back into baseball in 2005 by Commissioner Yasuchika Negoro but, at age 59, he was hardly in shape to resume the career he had lost 36 years previously.

Having attended several Lions games at the old Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka in 1970-72, I saw first-hand the damage the “Black Mist” fallout did to the Nishitetsu franchise.

In the wake of the scandal, the team, then managed by former ace pitcher Kazuhisa “Iron Man” Inao, was buried in last place in the PL standings, having to use young, inexperienced pitchers in place of Ikenaga, Yoda and Masuda. They could not compete with such powerhouse teams of that era, such as the Hankyu Braves and Lotte Orions.

The Lions played in front of mostly empty stands at the 30,000-seat Heiwadai ballpark. In 1973, the Nishitetsu railroad conglomerate sold the team, and six years later, the club was sold again and moved to Tokorozawa, where it began business as the Seibu Lions.

The current situation with the 32-year-old Fukuda and the Giants is different, of course. Fukuda has been accused of gambling — not game-fixing — and he has been mostly a second-line hurler on the Yomiuri staff during his 12-year career. In 2014, he pitched in only 12 varsity games, compiling a 0-1 record and 9.54 ERA.

This season, he did not appear in any Central League contests, and his record on the Giants Eastern League farm team was 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in eight appearances. So, he is hardly an ace as Ikenaga was with Nishitetsu 46 years ago.

Still, he wore the orange-and-black and displayed the “YG” logo of Japan’s most famous team, so the news of his betting on games is magnified more than if he had played for another Central or Pacific League club.

There is no danger Fukuda’s case will doom the Yomiuri franchise as the banning of Ikenaga and the other Lions pitchers eventually spelled the end of Nishitetsu in the early 1970s. It is embarrassing, but Fukuda will probably be fired and, ultimately, this story will most likely be recorded as a footnote in Japanese baseball history.

Diamond Dust: Kiyoshi Nakahata, stepping down after four seasons as manager of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, will probably return to his previous job as a commentator on Yomiuri Giants home games for NTV next season.

The two most recently mentioned names of guys who might replace Nakahata as the Yokohama skipper are former Yakult Swallows manager Atsuya Furuta and one-time Swallows, Giants and Baystars player Alex Ramirez.

One other foreigner, ex-Giants player Warren Cromartie, emailed from Florida to say, “Put my name in that hat.”

Cromartie played for Yomiuri from 1984 to 1990 and has experience (a year, anyway) managing the Samurai Bears team in the independent Golden Baseball League in the U.S. in 2005.

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