Last week, a bat used by Kazuhiro Kiyohara during his high school days was removed from an exhibition celebrating the long and rich history of high school baseball at Koshien Stadium.
The National High School Baseball Tournament had been Kiyohara’s launchpad (he played in five Koshien tournaments, including the spring one), the start of the journey that took him to the upper reaches of Japanese baseball superstardom. But in the time it took to reach into a display case, he was gone.
There’s a chance other sectors of the baseball world will partake in a similar scrubbing of Kiyohara, who was arrested for possessing 0.1 grams of a kakuseizai stimulant last week. Reports say police also found three syringes and four cell phones in the apartment he was using. He admitted to using drugs after his arrest last week, though he refuses to name his supplier. Jail time is also a possibility.
Kiyohara, once revered, has been rendered toxic. Baseball may shun him, and his appearances in other media, such as variety shows and commercials, will also grind to a halt.
He didn’t have a squeaky clean image to begin with. In the past, Japanese tabloids speculated the slugger had gang ties and also wrote about his proclivity for the night life. In 2014, Kiyohara threatened to sue weekly Shukan Bunshun for claiming he used stimulants regularly. Still, this incident pushes his faults to the surface.
Kiyohara’s legacy is forever tarnished. Whether he can rub some of the dirt off will be for the future to decide.
It at least wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Drug scandals have rocked the entertainment world most recently, with the arrests of actress Noriko Sakai in 2009 and pop star Aska in 2014, but baseball hasn’t been immune. Kiyohara’s situation is similar to that of Yutaka Enatsu, a disgraced former star pitcher arrested on drug charges in the ’90s.
Enatsu was shunned by many at the time. He was expelled from the Meikyukai (he’s since been reinstated) and isn’t in the Hall of Fame despite being regarded as one of Japan’s greatest pitchers. He did, however, win some modicum of redemption in the public eye, which may leave the door open for Kiyohara.
“Enatsu did hard time for possession of drugs, essentially the same thing that Kiyohara did,” said best-selling author and journalist Robert Whiting. “He wouldn’t talk. He was aligned with the (yakuza), so didn’t talk. So he got a pretty stiff sentence.
“People respected that in a weird way, I guess. But he served his sentence and he came back and he’s gradually worked his way back into the media. He might’ve been a bigger presence now had he not had involvement with drugs, but he did manage some sort of rehabilitation.”
Enatsu was just as accomplished as Kiyohara on the diamond.
He first won acclaim as a starter for the Hanshin Tigers and later as a reliever for the Nankai Hawks, Hiroshima Carp and Nippon Ham Fighters before his retirement after one season with the Seibu Lions in 1984. He finished his career with 206 wins, 193 saves and 2,987 strikeouts, fifth-most all time. The 16-time All-Star was the first player to be named MVP in both the Central and Pacific Leagues, while his 401 strikeouts in 1968 still stands as the single-season record. He had a tryout with the Milwaukee Brewers after his final season in Japan, but didn’t make the team.
But Enatsu was also dogged by controversy. He was accused of involvement with parties involved in baseball gambling during the “Black Mist” game-fixing scandal that rocked NPB in 1969 and received a warning from the Central League. He also faced rumors of yakuza connections and drug use even in retirement.
When Enatsu was arrested in 1993, various reports say he was in possession of 52 grams of stimulants. By comparison, Kiyohara was caught with 0.1 grams, Aska with 0.4 and Sakai with 0.008. Enatsu served 2 years and 4 months in prison before being released in 1995 on parole for good behavior.
“Serving time in a Japanese prison is no joke,” Whiting said. “There’s no heating, there’s no air-conditioning, you’re cramped, like eight to a room in a 10-tatami room. You have absolutely no privacy and you can’t talk.
“Enatsu said when he was in prison, every night he reviewed pitch-by-pitch every game he ever started, which is hard to believe that he can remember that, but that’s what he said he did.”
Enatsu declared himself a changed man upon leaving prison. He threw away the trophies he’d won as a baseball player as a symbol of starting anew. Enatsu wrote a book about his experiences and eventually returned to writing newspaper columns. Today, he’s a commentator for TV Osaka and was even a temporary coach for the Tigers during spring camp last year.
“People were impressed with Enatsu when he got out, because he really stayed on the straight and narrow,” Whiting said. “He said he learned his lesson. People respected that he kept his mouth shut and did his time. The book that he wrote was a best seller about his criminal life as a drug user and being in prison. People were ready to forgive him because he was such a great star.
“I think if Kiyohara really shows remorse, that’s the key thing in Japan. Now, Kiyohara’s name is really mud. It just all depends on how he handles it, and who comes to his defense. When Enatsu went to prison, Masaichi Kaneda went to see him. A couple of other famous ballplayers, including Katsuya Nomura, made public statements supporting him. He had that kind of support.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5