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NPB walking fine line on penalties in bid to banish gambling from baseball

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki is seen at a news conference on March 22, 2016. (Mainichi)

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki announced on March 22 that Yomiuri Giants pitcher Kyosuke Takagi, the fourth player on the team implicated in a baseball gambling scheme, had been suspended for a year and his contract cancelled. The punishment appears exceedingly light when compared to the indefinite suspensions handed down to the three other Giants players involved in the betting pool, but it also gives us a glimpse into the very difficult position the NPB finds itself in.

    The surface differences between Takagi, 26, and the other three players are that the pitcher was upfront about his involvement during an interview with the NPB investigative committee, and appeared genuinely repentant. His punishment was made official a quick two weeks later. At a deeper level, however, is the difficulty the NPB faces in investigating all Japan's pro baseball teams for harmful, illicit conduct.

    The linchpin of the betting pool scheme, a restaurateur, is a known repeat baseball gambling offender, and he is refusing to cooperate with the NPB's investigation. That leaves inquiries up to the teams themselves, and the NPB is conducting hearings with each one to try and get a full picture of the gambling problem. However, if the players see one of their own slapped with an indefinite suspension after confessing, they are likely to become reticent about admitting their own wrongdoing. And so the NPB lowered the hurdle for mea culpas by imposing a comparatively mild, one-year penalty on Takagi.

    Regarding the open-ended suspension for the other three players, Commissioner Kumazaki stated on March 22 that if the trio showed contrition and the NPB judged that they had cut all ties to gambling, he "could set definite suspension terms of between one and five years." The NPB investigative committee report has already asked if "special measures with fixed periods could be applied to cases of confessions to harmful conduct as defined under Article 180, Paragraph 1" of the Professional Baseball Agreement, NPB's governing document.

    "Even looking at Takagi, players will worry that they'll be kept out of pro baseball if they confess," noted NPB investigative committee head Motonari Otsuru. NPB "will impose penalties, but I hope we can do something systematic that will move players from being worried to cutting all ties with baseball gambling."

    If you are honest and confess, you will get a lighter punishment. I wonder if the NPB can treat baseball gambling so lightly. I suspect that the professional league's strategy is to prioritize "plea bargaining" in its efforts to get to the bottom of the problem. (By Tadahiro Jimbo, Tokyo Sports News Department)

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