Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Gambling, drugs, bullets provide cautionary tales for NPB's foreign players

by Wayne Graczyk

Gambling, drugs, bullets in luggage, gambling again. More current and former players in Japanese baseball are being tagged with the yogisha (crime suspect) label following their names, and team officials are making the deep bows of apology and “There’s nothing we can say” speeches. Some have stepped down “to take responsibility” for the actions of their players.

Three Yomiuri Giants players were fired last year for betting on games, and now a fourth, left-hander Kyosuke Takagi, will probably meet the same fate. Ex-Seibu, Yomiuri and Orix player Kazuhiro Kiyohara was nailed for drug possession and use, and Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Yamaico Navarro was arrested after two bullets were found in his backpack at Naha Airport in Okinawa.

Navarro’s punishment, given by the team, is a four-week suspension and a fine of ¥500,000, but the penalties seem to be much harsher than they would be In the U.S. where a player might be given a reprimand and a slap on the wrist. After all, Navarro was not carrying a gun.

Futhermore, if this incident had occurred in the U.S., and the player given any degree of punishment, the Major League Players Association would most likely file a grievance and an appeal. The chances of the fine and suspension being reduced or eliminated would be high.

Navarro may be guilty of neglect and of not being familiar with the strict firearms laws in Japan, but there surely was no intent to commit a violent act.

In the U.S. in 2015, pro basketball player Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets reportedly was detained after a gun was found in his carry-on bag when he went to catch a flight at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

According to the story in Business Insider, Howard said he forgot the gun was in his bag. He was released after giving the gun to a friend. He was not charged and never got into any trouble.

Previously, in 2013, former NBA great Bill Russell was arrested at Sea-Tac Airport in Washington State when a loaded .38 caliber Smith and Wesson firearm was found by security in his carry-on bag. According to SI.com, the gun was confiscated and Russell was released.

The Navarro episode is the second such incident involving a Dominican player in recent years. It follows the case of former Chunichi Dragons pitcher Maximo Nelson who was found at an airport in Japan with a bullet in his bag in 2010. Nelson was suspended for three months.

For their part, the Japanese teams need to better prepare all foreign players by explaining the cultural and legal differences between Japan and the respective countries. Carrying firearms and ammunition may be legal in the Dominican Republic but, if you’re going to play ball in Japan, leave the guns and bullets home and check closely what you are taking in your luggage.

A forgotten bullet in a hidden zipper compartment could cost you a chunk of money out of your salary and a few weeks or months on the sidelines when you should be performing on the field and helping your team win some games.

New challenge for Gomes: How do you think Jonny Gomes will do this season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles? He is the third high-profile major league and World Series veteran to join the Pacific League club over the past four years, and we’ll see if he can stay healthy and adapt well to Japanese baseball.

The Eagles did OK with outfielder Andruw Jones who played two full seasons (2013-14), helping the team win its first and so far only Japan Series title three seasons ago.

Then they called for infielder Kevin Youkilis to join Jones in 2014, but the former Boston Red Sox star was injured and played only 21 games, hitting just .215 with but one home run.

Another big name from the big leagues in recent times was pitcher Brad Penny. While he did not play for Rakuten, he started his only game in Japan for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on a cold Tohoku afternoon against the Eagles in Sendai in April of 2012. He pitched 3 1/3 innings and left the country with a record of 0-1 and an ERA of 10.80.

So far, so good, though with Gomes hitting .273 with a homer in exhibition play through Wednesday.

Diamond Dust: Female umpire Jen Pawol is the newest addition to the Coastal Plain League umpiring staff, and another lady ump, Perry Lee Barber, posted on her Facebook page that Jen is the first woman to graduate from umpire school having earned a job in pro baseball in more than a decade.

The Coastal Plain League is a summer collegiate baseball league covering the area of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia in the U.S. …

With Tony Barnette gone to the major leagues with the Texas Rangers, who will be the closer for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows this season? It should be another American, Logan Ondrusek, going into his second year with the Swallows and coming off a great campaign as Barnette’s set-up man.

Ondrusek was 5-2 last season with 33 holds and a 2.05 ERA in 72 games mostly working the eighth inning ahead of Barnette, the Central League saves leader with 41. But, does Ondrusek want the closer’s job this year?

“You bet I do,” he said prior to a recent exhibition game against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com

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