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Korean baseball: Could scandal unseat the country's most lucrative sport?

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The answer, say investigators, is that gangsters, called "brokers," try to fix bets by getting through to players by Internet, phone, or e-mail to entice them into taking bribes.  One of the indicted players had still-closer links: According to prosecutors, he shared an apartment with a broker who was indicted as a central figure in the racket.

Almost all Internet gambling on sports is illegal in Korea, but it's so simple to work around that officials have decided a "no mercy" policy is really the only way to deal with a wide range of suspects.  Beside the two pitchers, prosecutors also indicted 16 professional volleyball players – a far less popular sport in which betting did not have the same visibility.

The fear among baseball insiders is that the scandal will cut into fan enthusiasm just as the sport is turning into a national mania. You Byun-sook of the Korea Baseball Organization, which makes and enforces the rules for South Korea's professional teams, worries that it "will have a negative effect" on consumer confidence – though, he adds,  how negative “depends on how we deal with it, how we deal with individual players.” 

The pitchers

Prosecutors say the two indicted pitchers, both with the LG Twins, owned by the sprawling LG conglomerate, accepted bribes for up to nearly $5,000 for issuing the first walk in a game.

LG has fired both players, one of whom was the team’s biggest winner last year, with 13 victories for a club that wound up near the bottom of the league. No one questioned his pitching prowess – especially since he racked up all those wins purportedly after having deliberately walked batters at the behest of the broker who took the bets. 

The other player, the broker’s roommate, who won only four games in 2011, is accused of taking bribes with another team before the Twins acquired him. 

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