It was a hard week for baseball in America. We lost two of the biggest legends the game has known in Tommy Lasorda and Hank Aaron. Fortunately, nothing like that has rocked Japan. Still, there were plenty of reasons to say “no” this past fortnight…
First, NPB announced on January 20 that all spring training camps, which start on February 1, will be conducted with no fans in attendance. Obviously, with the spread of the novel coronavirus still a concern (and much of the nation in the midst of a period of state of emergency), the league has decided to keep fans out and ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff. For the record, 8 teams will start out in Okinawa, while 4 (Giants, Hawks, Lions, Buffaloes) will begin in Miyazaki.
No word on whether or not fans will be allowed to attend preseason (or regular season) games. On the other hand, NPB has informed teams that the special rules applied last season to lessen the burden on players will remain in place this coming season. Namely, top-squad rosters will remain at 29 players, with 26 allowed on the bench, five imports can be on the top squad, and all tie games will end after 10 innings, regardless of whether a winner has been determined.
One rule that will remain unchanged is that there will still be no designated hitter in the Central League. The Yomiuri Giants have been pushing for this rule change in the past two years (perhaps because consecutive sweeps at the hands of the Hawks in the Japan Series has stung just a little too much?), but despite approval/support from the Pacific League, the other 5 Central League teams unanimously rejected the proposal.
In a bit of a shocker, there were no new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Current Swallows manager and all-star closer Shingo Takatsu came closest with 72.3% of voters approving him. Next on the list were Dragons lefty Masa Yamamoto (68.2%) and former Baystars manager Alex Ramirez (65.1%). This marks two straight years that no one was inducted on the player-eligible ballot. On top of that, no one was chosen on the expert-eligible ballot, either. Falling just short was Randy Bass (Tigers), who got 70.9% voter approval.
Finally, in a bit of a sad story, the Chiba Lotte Marines have said they will no longer be paying outfielder Ikuhiro Kiyota. The 34-year old violated team policy during the 2020 season by sneaking away from the team for several secret rendezvous with his lover. When he and other teammates were questioned after testing positive for Covid-19, Kiyota denied having gone out, and told his girlfriend to keep quiet about their encounters, lest his infidelity also come to light. In the end, she divulged the whole story to a tabloid paper in recent weeks after their relationship came to an end. Kiyota has been placed on indefinite suspension for his actions, which he says he feels remorse about.
Spring training starts in a week! Here’s to hoping the next update is filled with a lot more positives than this one was!
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