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.
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.
Baseball Organization’s Home Page
Available for Sale
Ho Park English/Korean dual autographed Los Angeles Dodgers
1994 Opening Day cachet
Players Born in South Korea