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South Korea Baseball

Most sources report that baseball was introduced in Korea by U.S. missionary Phillip L. Gillet in 1905. Until 1982, baseball remained an amateur pastime in Korea, played mostly by students and church groups. Until recent years, baseball in Korea may have been best known for its teams from Seoul that won the 1984 and 1985 Little League World Series. In 1994, Chan Ho Park became the first of 13 Korean-born players in Major League Baseball (through 2006) when he debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hee-Seop Choi became the first Asian-born player to hit 3 homers in a major league game when he did so as a Dodger against the Minnesota Twins on June 12, 2005.

The Korean Baseball Organization, founded in 1982, currently has eight teams that play 126 games, with the top four teams advance to a playoffs, ending in the 7-game Korea Series. Starting in 2005, the Korean champion continues on to play in the Konami Cup Asia Series against the winners of the Japanese and Taiwanese leagues and a Chinese all-star team. Korean baseball is more similar to the Japanese than the American game with animated fans, draws declared in games still tied after 12 innings, and teams named for their corporate owners. Those inflatable plastic, noise-making “thunder sticks” were created in Korea, before spreading to sporting events in the U.S. and Japan. Korean baseball is also unique in having female cheerleaders, who lead fans in cheers from on top of the dugouts and in the stands.

In 2003, Korean-born Seung-Yeop Lee broke Sadaharu Oh’s Asian single-season home run record by hitting his 56th home run on the final day of the season. While playing with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese League, Lee later became only the third professional player to hit 400 home runs before the age of 30, joining Sadaharu Oh and Alex Rodriguez. In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Lee led all players with 5 home runs in 7 games. His current contract with the Yomiuri Giants that runs through 2010 reportedly has an “out” clause, which permits Lee to sign with a MLB team if the Giants win the Japan Series. Lee hit a 2-run homer in the 8th inning of Korea’s 3-2 first round WBC victory over Japan before 40,553 in Tokyo.

According to a BBC News article on June 22, 2005, the Korean Baseball Organization banned cabbage from the baseball field as a “foreign substance” after cabbage leaves twice fell from star pitcher’s Park Myung-Hwan's cap live on television. Park began keeping cabbage leaves in his cap the previous year after hearing that Babe Ruth used them under his cap to keep cool on the field. "In common sense, it is difficult to consider that wearing a cabbage leaf will affect pitches," a KBO spokesman said. Players may now only wear cabbage by presenting a doctor's note in advance.

Starting in 1997, KBO league rules changed to permit each team to have up to two foreigners. With far lower salaries than in the United States, the Korean League has attracted major leaguers near the tail end of their careers, including Kevin Mitchell, Carlos Baerga, and Salomon Torres. In 1999, Felix Jose had a monster year with the Lotte Giants when he won a gold glove while leading the league in both on-base and slugging percentages (.425/.636), which he leveraged to earn a contract with the Yankees for the 2000 season. He played again for the Lotte Giants in 2001 and 2006, and is signed to play for them again in the 2007 season.

In international play, Korea’s 3-1 victory over Japan in the bronze medal game in the 2000 Sydney Olympics won it hard-earned respect in the international baseball world. At the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Korea played near flawless ball in the first two rounds, going 6-0, including 2 wins against Asian rival Japan and a victory over the United States. Although they impressed with their surprising semi-final finish, their tourney dreams ended in a 6-0 loss to Japan who scored five times in the seventh inning to knock out the Koreans before the finals. Although South and North Korea have announced that they will field a unified team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Korean baseball team is expected to consist entirely of players from South Korea.



Korean Baseball Organization’s Home Page

Available for Sale
Chan Ho Park English/Korean dual autographed Los Angeles Dodgers 1994 Opening Day cachet


Players Born in South Korea

Name Birthdate Birthplace First Game
Cha Seung Baek 5/29/1980 Pusan 8/8/2004
Jung Bong 7/15/1980 Seoul 4/23/2002
Jin Ho Cho 8/16/1975 Jun Ju City 7/4/1998
Hee Seop Choi 3/16/1979 Chun-Nam 9/3/2002
Shin-Soo Choo 7/13/1982 Pusan 4/21/2005
Byung-Hyun Kim 1/21/1979 Kwangsan-Ku Songjungdong 5/29/1999
Sun-Woo Kim 9/4/1977 Inchon 6/15/2001
Dae-Sung Koo 8/2/1968 Daejeon 4/4/2005
Sang-Hoon Lee 3/11/1971 Seoul 6/29/2000
Chan Ho Park 6/30/1973 Kongju 4/8/1994
Tommy Phelps 3/4/1974 Seoul 3/31/2003
Jae Kuk Ryu 5/30/1983 Choon Chung Do 5/14/2006
Jae Weong Seo 5/24/1977 Kwanju 7/21/2002

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