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TOKYO (AFP) – The chief of Japanese professional baseball resigned Thursday ending months of calls for him to go after the former diplomat admitted his office secretly changed the design of balls to produce more home runs.
Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) commissioner Ryozo Kato had been under pressure since the scandal erupted in June, but the 72-year-old steadfastly refused to step down until now.
"I am responsible for all the trouble caused to baseball fans and people concerned about the ball changes," he told a news conference with owners of the league's 12 teams in attendance.
Kato cited ball design as "one of the major reasons" for his decision to quit. His reign will finish when the regular season ends next month.
He took up the post in 2008 after serving as Japan's ambassador to Washington for nearly seven years.
The Japan Professional Baseball Players Association had called on Kato to quit for being "passive" and "avoiding responsibility".
After months of repeated denials and a huge surge in home runs this season, the league admitted on June 11 that it had changed specifications of the balls -- each which bear Kato's signature -- to give it greater bounce off the bat.
The league also admitted that it had demanded its manufacturer keep quiet about the switch.
The day after the revelation, Kato told a news conference he had been unaware of any change and refused to step down. At that point the number of home runs had already jumped 40 percent from a year before.
The scandal came to the fore again on Sunday after former US major leaguer Wladimir Balentien set a new season home-run record, surpassing the 55 homers set by Japan's home-run king Sadaharu Oh nearly half a century ago.
Balentien, a 29-year-old native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, had smacked 58 home runs as of Wednesday, well ahead of his nearest rival with 37.