Ichiro makes 2nd place in income
4-time leading hitter, Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Orix Blue Wave for 320 million yen on January 28, 1998. That's up 60 million yen. He's still 24 years old, and is the youngest to surpass the 300 million yen mark. Ichiro has become the 2nd highest paid baseball player for the coming season.

Tax evasion sentences
Well-known Daiei players' sentences were announced on Jan. 12, the BayStars players were given on Jan. 14, the Dragons players on Jan. 20, and the Swallows on Jan. 23.
Players Punishments
Hiroki Kokubo (Fukuoka Daiei Hawks)1 year in prison, 2 years suspension, 7 million yen fine
Hidekazu Watanabe (Fukuoka Daiei Hawks) 1 year in prison, 2 years suspension, 5.5 million yen fine
Toshio Haru (Yokohama BayStars) 10 months in prison, 2 years suspension, 4.5 million yen fine
Yoshifumi Kawasaki (Yokohama BayStars) 10 months in prison, 2 years suspension, 3.5 million yen fine
Takashi Manei (Yokohama BayStars) 10 months in prison, 2 years suspension, 3.5 million yen fine
Yusuke Torigoe (Chunichi Dragons) 10 months in prison, 3 years suspension, 4 million yen fine
Hiroshi Yamada (Chunichi Dragons) 10 months in prison, 3 years suspension, 4.5 million yen fine
Tetsuya Kitagawa (Yakult Swallows) 10 months in prison, 3 years suspension, 3.5 million yen fine
Shinya Miyamoto (Yakult Swallows) 10 months in prison, 3 years suspension, 3.5 million yen fine
In all, 19 players were implicated.

Pitcher signs multi-contract with the Buffaloes
On Jan. 19, Kintetsu Buffaloes' pitcher Motoyuki Akahori became the first to sign a contract of more than a year with a Pacific League team. It's an annual 185 million yen for 2 years. Akahori's 1997 record was 10 wins 7 losses and 23 saves. He had an ERA of 3.05. The new deal had made Akahori the highest earning pitcher in the league as well.

Yoshii joins the Mets
Masato Yoshii signed with the New York Mets on Jan.13, 1998 for a one year contract of 600 thousand dollars according to Japanese news reports. He's become the first Japanese to go to the US upon obtaining free agent status. Yoshii is expected to be the Mets starting pitcher. It was later learned that Yoshii's contract has been decreased to 500 thousand dollars. That's because a doctor who examined his right shoulder warned of possibilities that he might wreck it again. Now, according to his former Swallows teammate Jim Tatum who may also join the Mets, the correct salary seems to be 200 thousand US dollars. However, if he plays up to the Mets' expectation, he has the chance to make 800 thousand dollars in performance bonuses. Still, according to Jim, Yoshii is not guaranteed to be on the N.Y. Mets. He needs to win the job.
Michiyo's Note: Yoshii was offered 500 million to 800 million yen for a 3 to 5 year contract from Japanese teams. It shows that he has decided to challenge the US Major Leagues as opposed to pursuing money. I hope to look out for him during the coming season and start a new page featuring Yoshii soon! And thank you Jim for the information!

Hosey given a boosting contract
1997 Central League homerun king, Dwayne Hosey signed with the Swallows for the coming season on Jan. 12 for 10 million dollars plus an incentive of 500 thousand dollars. His annual income has doubled.

Franco returns to Japan
Former Lotte Marines Julio Franco will play again for the Japanese team. He officially signed a 1 year contract for 200 million yen on Jan. 12. The Marines agreed to increase his income depending on the turnout the team receives during the 1998 season. The Marines had lost 5.8 percent of its spectators in the 97 season. The possibility of Franco's return was disclosed Dec.20. Franco was the 1991 leading batter in the American League as a player of the Texas Rangers. In 1997, he played first with the Cleveland Indians, then the Milwaukee Brewers. He decided to become a free agent, and expressed his wish to play again in Japan. Lotte Marines team members expressed joy in welcoming Franco. He is only the 5th non-Japanese player to make a comeback to the Japanese league after playing outside the country.

Furuta earns bonus
The Swallows have presented their MVP catcher Atsuya Furuta an extra 90 million yen, in addition to the 200 million yen he is promised for 3 years. This was known on Dec. 29. Furuta has also been given at least 8 major baseball awards, and that amounts to at least 21.5 million yen.

Yoshii plans to join the Mets
Free agent, Masato Yoshii had met all Japanese teams he was interested in and a couple of US Major League teams including the LA Dodgers and the SF Giants. He came to the conclusion of signing with the New York Mets according to a Dec. 27 report. His intention has been confirmed the following day. The Mets have offered Yoshii 700 thousand dollars including an incentive fee. That's instead of the 700 million yen for a 3 year contract with the Bay Stars and the Tokyo Giants are said to have offered. Yoshii made 92 million yen for the 97 season. If he does sign with the Mets in early January, he'll be the first Japanese to play in the US after becoming a free agent.

Godzilla given whooping raise
The contract the Tokyo Giants offered Hideki Matsui is the highest ever to a 23 year old. He has signed for 220 million yen on Christmas Eve for his 6th year in pro baseball. That's a 60 million yen increase. He finished the 97 season with a batting average of .298, and 37 homeruns. Besides, Matsui has been suggesting more seats for wheelchaired persons at the Tokyo Dome. This proposal has been accepted. 5 more seats will be added to the exisiting 7.

Saitoh is no longer highest paid pitcher
Masaki Saitoh of the Tokyo Giants has agreed to a 40 million yen decrease on Dec 22. He was the highest paid pitcher for the 97 season making 330 million yen. However, he was only able to win 6 games--his worst performance in 9 years. The highest earning pitcher is now Kazuhiro Sasaki of the BayStars.

Kiyohara remains number one
The Giants have proposed Kazuhiro Kiyohara 330 million yen for the coming season. That's down 30 million. Kiyohara, who had a depressing batting average of .257 in his first year with the Giants agreed to the contract and signed it on Dec. 16. Still, he ties with the Bay Stars Kazuhiro Sasaki for the top income in Japanese pro baseball.

Sasaki promised a big raise
The man who broke records in the number of saves during the past season was given a major boost in income. Kazuhiro Sasaki has reportedly agreed to a one year, 330 million yen deal with the Bay Stars on Dec. 12 for the 98 season. That's up 155 million yen. At age 30, he's Japan's 4th baseball player ever to pass the 300 million yen mark.

1998 pro baseball schedule announced
The Central League released its schedule on Dec.8, and the Pacific League the following day. They will begin on different days--the CL on April 3, and PL a day later.

Bross joins the Lions
Terry Bross has officially signed with the Lions on Dec.9, to a 1 year contract for 100 million yen. His former team, the Swallows disclosed on Nov. 13 that the they will not extend their contract with former best ERA pitcher. His 1997 ERA was 4.99 and finished the season with 7 wins 8 losses. Bross, originally from Texas played for the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants before joining the Swallows in 1995. Teams such as the Blue Wave, Lions and Daiei were also interested in acquiring him.

Pros given chance to return to companies
It's the first time in 36 years that amateur baseball has decided to opened up to retired pro baseball players. The Japan Amateur Federation held a meeting on Dec. 8, and announced that after January 1999, professionals who have been dismissed from their teams can play for the corporate teams. But only 2 former pros will be allowed per team. Pros and amateurs were restricted from associating with eachother since 1961. The Dragons stole a corporate ace pitcher in the middle of their season back then. This move angered the amateur side. The amateur association retaliated by banning pros from playing again in the corporate leagues. They have also stopped allowing pro coaches to even look after amateur players until 1973.

The Swallows welcome former Lions ace
32-year old Hisanobu Watanabe is to play for the Swallows in 1998. This move was decided on Dec.5. Watanabe is to receive 30 million yen, and depending on his performance, will be able to earn another 30 million next year. Still, the total is much less than what he made with the Lions. On Nov. 23, the Lions disclosed that they had no intention of keeping him. Watanabe was the pitcher with the most wins in the Pacific League 3 times. He had a terrible season this year, not being able to win even one game. A trade could not be considered because of his whooping annual income. He has had a 113 million yen contract for the 97 season.

Lopez goes to Daiei
Luis Lopez who won the Central League RBI title twice as a member of the Hiroshima Carp had become one of the Daiei Hawks. He tied the knot with the team in New York on Dec.2. He has agreed to a one year contract for 150 million yen. The Hawks have been desperate to obtain Lopez as a replacement for their slugger Hiroki Kokubo who may be banned to play the 98 season, because he is indicted to an enormous tax evasion.

High school students scouted by US teams
The New York Mets have tied a deal with Juei Ushiromatsu of Omagari Kogyo High School. The action was disclosed on Nov. 26. Ushiromatsu was left out of the draft meeting on Nov. 21, and after that the 183 cm. tall pitcher was officially scouted. He has recorded 18 strike outs in 2 games. It's the first time that a Japanese had been scouted by a US team. Other US Major League scouts are approaching Japanese high school students.

Baseball players indicted plus a coach is fired
10 pro baseball players were indicted for tax evasion on Nov. 18. The players have all entered the pro baseball world in 1994. Among them, was also a Seibu Lions coach who was released by the team the next day. Their income records were maneuvered by a tax consultant in Nagoya. Naturally, the consultant was indicted too. He is accused of forging records of 10 other players too. Hiroki Kokubo of the Daiei Hawks has evaded the largest sum. He is reported to have had an annual income of 158 million yen in 1994 of which 60 million he concealed. It is also believed he introduced other players to the Nagoya consultant and received commission for the work. Kokubo is 97 season RBI leader and the best rookie of 1994. Tax evasion suspicion was already disclosed to the public before the 97 baseball season.

Aota is dead
5 time homerun king, Noboru Aota died on Nov. 4. He was 72 years old. Aota started his pro baseball career as a Giants player in 1944. He served in the military for a couple of years then returned to play baseball with Hankyu, the predecessor of the Blue Wave. He played again for the Giants from 1948 and contributed to the team's second Golden era with Tetsuharu Kawakami.
Michiyo's Note: I'd know him better as a no nonsense baseball commentator. Nevertheless, you could clearly tell his affection toward the Giants is eternal.

Collegiate star favors the Giants
Tokyo Big 6 University league homerun record holder Yoshinobu Takahashi disclosed on Nov.4 that he would like to play with the Tokyo Giants. Takahashi announced his determination at his alma mater, Keio University, the day after the collegiate autumn baseball season finished. It was rumored earlier that he may choose the Yakult Swallows.

Farewell to Heiwadai Stadium
Fukuoka-city's 47 year old baseball park, Heiwadai Stadium will be taken down. As part of its closing ceremony, former players of the Nishitetsu Lions played against the old Pacific League all stars on Nov. 3. They included legendary Kazuhisa Inao, Lion's manager Osamu Higashio, and surprisingly, pro golf player Jumbo Ozaki who had been a Nishitetsu player. The Pacific League all stars won the 7 inning game 8 to 0.

Japan v. South Korea (Nov.1 and 2)
1st game
Members of the Chunichi Dragons and the Orix Blue Wave faced a mixed team of the Korean teams of LG Twins and Hyundai in Soeul on Nov. 1. The players the Korean fans looked forward to seeing were the Dragons Sun Don Yol and Blue Wave's 4 time leading hitter Ichiro. Ichiro, however, could only play outfield. He could not bat due to pain in his hips. The turnout, all in all was very small. Only 3000 spectators came to watch the game. It is speculated that sports fans chose rather to see the World Cup preliminaries held in the adjacent stadium between Japan and South Korea the same day. The first game was won by Japan 6 to 5.
2nd game
In the 2nd and final game, Sun Don Yol, pitched the 9th inning. Dubbed the Korean express, Sun appeared before South Korean fans for the first time in 2 years. That's since he left to play with the Dragons. The South Korean all-star players were unable to defeat Japan again and lost 3 to 4.

Trade and free agent news
The Seibu Lions officially announced on Nov. 1 that Yukihiro Nishizaki who was released by the Nippon Ham Fighters during the season had become a member of the Lions. Manager Osamu Higashio has given him number 21, the number he himself wore as the ace pitcher of the Lions. Nishizaki is assumed to have agreed to a 2 year contract, or an annual income of 130 million yen.

Masato Yoshii decided to become a free agent on Oct.30. It was reported that he could not come in terms with the contract the Swallows have suggested. Yoshii wanted a 4 year contract, but the team would only agree to 2. Yoshii has come to the spotlight with regard to a suit dispute as well. He complained that during the Aug.5 game at the Osaka Dome, someone has deliberately shot a red ray into his eyes when he was pitching. That ruined his vision and he could not pitch the rest of that game.

Kuwata decides to remain with the Giants
It was made official on Oct. 28,1997 that Masumi Kuwata will stay with the Giants for another 3 years for a total 400 million yen. Baseball fans and the press have been so interested in whether he would become a free agent after the 97 season, and try out for the US Major Leagues. Kuwata marked his 10th year in baseball, giving him the freedom of choice.
Michiyo's Note: You won't believe how much press attention Kuwata was getting with regard to his future. Sports papers were so desperate, they'd try to find out what I got out of the interview with Kuwata on Oct.17.