Tax evasion scandal
A Nagoya consultant firm is being investigated on suspicion of assisting baseball players evade tax, according to an announcement on Feb.28. So far, players of 10 baseball teams are believed to have sought advice from the consultant firm by paying 5 million yen to 20 million yen. Pro soccer players and keirin cyclists are also among the clients.

Frenchmen end practice with the Tigers
3 French students concluded their training with the farm team of the Hanshin Tigers on Feb. 28. They went through the Japanese style training for 1 month. Tigers' manager, Yoshio Yoshida was the national team manager of the French team until being asked to lead the Tigers again for the 97 season.

Top income earners for the 97 season
Ichiro signed next year's contract with the Blue Wave for 280 million yen. That's up 120 million from the previous year. He is only the 4th highest in the seasonal contract for 1997. Number one is the former Lions star turned Giants player Kazuhiro Kiyohara at an estimated 360 million yen, followed by Central League's top pitcher Masaki Saitoh who is believed to have signed next season for 330 million yen on Dec. 20. Hiromitsu Ochiai follows. He signed with the Fighters for 300 million yen.

Ochiai chooses to play for the Fighters
Former triple crown king Hiromitsu Ochiai made it clear on his birthday on Dec. 9, that he will play for the Nippon Ham Fighters for the '97 and '98 seasons. He said the reason why he chose the Fighters is because he was moved when its manager told him he was needed in order to take the team to the championship. Ochiai also met Swallows officials to report to them about his decision.

After his first meeting with the Swallows on Dec.3. Ochiai wore an expression of satisfaction when he reported about the meeting to the press. It was thought he was in favor of them although the details were not mentioned.

Ochiai officially announced on Nov. 28, that he was leaving the Giants. He was about to break into tears when he was speaking to the press. Ochiai made up his mind after discussing his future with Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima the night before, for more than 3 hours over sushi. His judgement was based on the fact that because Kazuhiro Kiyohara has joined the Giants, his chance to play first base regularly has become slim. Ochiai who is 43 now is not willing to give up his 4th in the batting line up until 45.

What triggered his action was the attitude of Giants officials toward Ochiai when they were approaching Kiyohara to join the team. Ochiai was hurt when the rumor spread that the Giants will release Ochiai, and he became angry with the Giants. On Nov. 15, Giants official announced that Ochiai will not be fired, but that didn't help.

Star player Kiyohara decides to play for his childhood hero
Kazuhiro Kiyohara sat beside Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima before the press on Nov.24. He tried on the Giants uniform and cap. He wore an expression of a rookie who has realized his dream. Kiyohara made his dream come true by taking action himself after the season.

Kiyohara bid farewell to the Lions and the owner of the team, billionaire Yoshiaki Tsutsumi. He was available for a meeting with officials from other teams as of Nov. 12. He did not make clear immediately though which team he would like to play for. He did say that he has a specific team in mind. Nobody had difficulty guessing. It's the Giants. That's the team he always dreamed of playing for. Anyway, he met Giants officials on Nov.13, Kiyohara also agreed to talk with the Tigers, and on Nov. 15, he went to Osaka to speak with Tigers new manager and former star player Yoshio Yoshida. The Tigers sincere attitude in speaking with him seemed to have touched Kiyohara's heart. Then on Nov.20, Kiyohara talked with Giants' manager Shigeo Nagashima-- his baseball hero. Kiyohara couldn't stop from smiling when he reported to the press about the meeting. Kiyohara met Tigers officials again on Nov.22, but he wasn't in a cheery mood anymore. He's made up his mind.

Kiyohara decided to officially become a free agent on Oct. 27. Seibu Lions was obviously not happy with his move, being their most important player. The Lion warned on Oct.28 that Kiyohara actually earns more than he is reported to, or 280 million yen. If a team wants him, that team must pay Kiyohara 1.5 times his present salary, plus it will have to pay the Lions that amount too in compensation. The total spending could add up to a whooping 840 million yen. The Lions, therefore, tried to discourage other teams from obtaining Kiyohara,but of course, failed.

Baseball draft held
All 12 baseball teams made their pick of future stars on Nov 21. Since the 1st and 2nd picks are fixed between the teams and the players before the meeting, there were no major surprises. This actually has made the draft meeting during the past 3 years boring. The meeting has had not live TV coverage since the new designation system has been established.. As expected, the most popular guy, Tadahito Iguchi who was the main hitter for the silver winning Japanese national team at the Atlanta Olympics, went to the Hawks. 8 other members of the Olympic team have been drafted.

Another Dominican signs up with the Giants
29 year old Luis Santos will be playing for the Giants next season. He will join Balvino Galvez, award winning pitcher this season with whom he played in Taiwan. Santos is dubbed Taiwan's Ichiro winning a number of batting awards in that region. But Santos is way taller at 196 cm. He plays in field.

The Blue Wave parades Kobe
1996 Japan champion, Orix Blue Wave, paraded down the street of Kobe on a motorcade. Cheers and screams of joy filled the main street. 180 thousand fans congratulated their team along the 3 kilometer stretch. The place was almost in panic, because the fans tried to come as close as possible to baseball's superstar Ichiro. Fortunately, there's no report of someone getting hurt.

Sadaharu Oh discloses Hawks '97 slogan
On Nov.15, the former homerun king, Sadaharu Oh, announced at a press conference that his team Daiei Hawks has decided to play the year '97 under the motto, "Wild But Balanced".

Golden Glove Award
This is the award for the best in fielding in both leagues. The players are selected by sports journalists, and the winners were announced Nov.13. 5 chosen from this year's Japan champion, the Orix Blue Wave, while there were only 2 from the Giants--the Central League champion.

Eric Hillman joins the Giants
Hillman officially signed a contract with the Giants on Nov. 13 for the next 2 years. His annual income is reported to be 250 million yen with incentives. He has been playing for the Lotte Marines for 2 seasons, and has won a total of 26 games and lost 18. He was second in the ERA standing for the '96 season. Before playing in Japan, he was with the Florida Marlins. By the way, he won the IBM Award on Nov.14.

Bobby Valentine suggests innovative actions between US and Japanese baseball.
Valentine skippered the Lotte Marines for the 1995 season. Presently, he heads the New York Mets. The main purpose of his trip seems to be to inaugurate trade between the young players of the Tokyo Giants and his players. He visited the Giants training camp in Miyazaki Prefecture, southern Japan on Nov. 6 to confirm the matter.

Then on Nov.7, Valentine talked with the present Marines manager Akihito Kondo. He asked to allow Hideki Irabu, ace pitcher of the Marines, to play with his team in the US Major Leagues. He offered in return, up and coming players in the AAA level. Meanwhile, Irabu, who has not been able to hold fruitful discussion with team officials for over a year about his desire to play in the US, is packing to leave the country. His move was made known, according to his neighbors who said, Irabu came to bid farewell.

Major League All Star Players are here for an 8 game series.
They include, Cal Ripken Jr, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza. They got together with the Japanese all-stars at the Tokyo Dome on Oct. 31 for practice. Hideo Nomo was there too!
For more on the Super Major Series, click here.

The Giants decided to release Shane Mack
The announcement was made on Oct. 31. Mack hit .293 and 22 homeruns --an unsatisfactory record for team officials. He earned 430 million yen this year with the Giants.

Kazushige Nagashima has been released by the Giants.
Nagashima is son of Giants skipper Shigeo Nagashima. He was told by his own father on Oct.28 that the team did not need him anymore. Nagashima Jr. was traded to the Giants from the Swallows in 1992 when his father took over. It was rumored that the Fighters want him. Nagashima, however, disclosed that he had lost all his confidence to continue playing baseball.

The Giants releases Mario Brito.
This was learned in the sports paper owned by Giants parent company on Oct. 26. Brito played in Japan for the first time this year. He had a good start as a relief pitcher, but he injured his right knee during the middle of the season. This has affected his performance the rest of the season.

Tom O'Malley has been dismissed from the Yakult Swallows.
This was learned on Oct. 24. O'Malley insisted on a raise from his present 250 thousand yen--the highest annual income of the team, to 400 thousand yen. He hit an average of .315, but recorded only 18 homeruns. His team did not do well either this season and the Swallows spokesman commented that even a 300 thousand yen salary is impossible.

Retirement announcements
They were made by a number of players during the final week of the baseball season. Some well known names are Daisuke Araki of the Bay Stars, a high school baseball idol in the early 80s, Genji Kaku of the Dragons who came from Taiwan and marked a Japanese record of 38 saves in one season, 9 time Golden Glove Award winner Ken Hirano with the Marines and 1986 Most Valuable Player Hiromichi Ishige of the Hawks who is better known for his contribution to leading the Lions to 8 Pacific League victories.

New uniform from the '97 season for the Kintetsu Buffaloes
The new design for the coming season was shown to the press on Oct.7. The move coincides with the opening of the new stadium, the Osaka Dome. Osaka born Hiroko Koshino designed the uniform. It'll be the first change in 23 years for the Buffaloes.

The Tigers sign up their former skipper and star player
This move came to light on Oct.6. Yoshio Yoshida will be managing the team for the third time. Yoshida is a Hall of Famer. The Tigers became Japan champion under him in 1985.

Games to be increased for the next 2 seasons
135 games will be played for the 1997 and 1998 seasons in both leagues. That means each team will play 5 more games. The decision was made by pro baseball commissioner on Sept.30. The opening of domed stadiums in Osaka and Nagoya next season seemed to have triggered the change. That is, the season would proceed more or less on schedule because of the fewer possibility of games being rained out. The commissoner says he feels the fans wish to watch games further into the season. But the move probably is for pro baseball to make more profit.