Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
After attending 8 or 9 Korean baseball games since my arrival to Korea about 20 months ago, I see it fit to finally give a somewhat thorough introduction to Korean baseball, which may be of interest to all my baseball-loving friends back in the States and around the world. I must note that I do not wish to discount or degrade Korean baseball in any way; I solely wish to explain, compare, and offer subtle opinions regarding some of the differences and tidbits that I find interesting in comparison to its American counterpart.
Korea Professional Baseball was originally founded with six franchises in 1982 and currently has eight throughout the nation, with one more being added next year. All the franchises are named after the companies or business conglomerates that own them, a bit different than US teams which are named after the city or state in which they reside.
Korean Professional Baseball Teams
Lotte is a South Korean conglomerate and one of the largest food and shopping groups in South Korea and Japan. Originally named Lotte Co., Ltd when it was formed in 1948 by a young South Korean businessman in Japan, it has grown from selling chewing gum to children in post-war Japan to becoming a major multinational corporation. Lotte’s major businesses are food products, shopping, finance, construction, housing, amusement parks, hotels, trade, oil and sports. Lotte owns 53 companies and its products, malls, cinemas, hotels, etc, are seen all over Korea.
Hanwha Group was founded in 1952 as Korea Explosives Inc. The bulk of Hanwha’s profit comes from the manufacturing and selling of explosives and weapons, but it’s also a multi-profile business conglomerate with several retail and financial services.
Founded in 1896, Doosan recently became the 7th largest supplier of construction machinery in the world after the acquisition of Bobcat USA. Doosan is also the 4th largest power-plant equipment maker in the world, behind General Electric of the US, and Germany’s Siemens and ABB. Doosan’s core businesses are based on ISB (Infrastructure Support Business), which provide people with electrical power, desalinated drinking water, construction equipment, advanced machinery, defense supplies, house, highways and bridges, chemical processing equipment and industrial engines. If there’s a construction site of any kind in Korea, one will definitely see the name of Doosan.
We all love Kia automobiles, right? However, Kia did not always manufacture cars. Founded in 1944 as a manufacture of steel tubing and bicycle parts by hand, in 1951, Kia began building complete bicycles. Kia then began producing motorcycles 1957 and later cars in 1974. Kia is South Korea’s second-largest automobile manufacturer, behind Hyundai Motor Company. During the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990’s, Kia declared bankruptcy in 1997 and Hyundai subsequently acquired 51% of the company outbidding the Ford Motor Company which had owned substantial interest in the company since 1986. Kia Motors also specializes in the production of military vehicles with variants and other transportation equipment and by supplying them as a sole maker of military vehicles designated by the South Korean Government since 1976.
Founded in 1947 as Lak-Hui Chemical Industrial Corp., it was the first Korean company to enter the plastics industry. It has since been named LG and has become the second-largest South Korean electronics producer following Samsung. LG produces electronics, chemicals, and telecommunications products and operates a number of other subsidiaries in over 80 countries.
As South Korea’s largest conglomerate, Samsung needs no thorough introduction. Samsung produces around a fifth of South Korea’s total exports and its revenues are larger than many countries’ GDP. In 2006, it would have been the world’s 35th-largest economy. The company has a powerful influence on South Korea’s economic development, politics, media and culture, which can be positive and negative depending on how one wishes to view it. As of April 2011 the Samsung Group comprised 59 unlisted companies and 19 listed companies, all of which had their primary listing on the Korean Stock Exchange.
Founded in 1942, Nexen is a one of South Korea’s three major tire manufacturers following Hankook Tire and Kumho Tires. Nexen tires are produced and sold around the globe.
SK, founded as Sunkyoung Group in 1953, is the third largest conglomerate in South Korea. The SK group is comprised of 92 subsidiary and affliate companies that share the SK brand. While SK is primarily known for its chemical, petroleum, and energy industries, it also provides services in construction, shipping, marketing, phones, high-speed internet,wireless broadband, and semiconductors.
Founded in 1997, NCsoft is a South Korean online video game company, which has produced very popular multi-player online role-playing games, such as Lineage, City of Heroes, Wildstar, Exteel, Guild Wars, and Aion.
The Korean Baseball Experience
Okay, thanks for bearing those company/conglomerate introductions, I hope it was interesting. Now, it’s time for dive into the Korean baseball experience. After attending a Nexen Heroes vs Samsung Lions game with a group of over 10 friends the other day, I couldn’t help but laugh at all the empty beers cans there were collected from within our group. There must have been over 50 or 60 empty beer cans, maybe more, of which 3 were happily mine. Perhaps you may be thinking – that must have been expensive! Now, if you are thinking in US stadium prices, then yes, it would have been SUPER expensive. However, in Korea, one is permitted to bring in their own food and beer inside the stadium. Say what?!? Yep, no joke! So it’s quite normal to see families or groups of friends walk into the stadium with mini-coolers or backpacks full of beverages and food, which is exactly what our group did. Of course, one can comfortably purchase food and beer at the stadium. Compared to street prices, there’s only about a 10-15% mark-up, compared to a 50-100% markup at US stadiums.
Of all the games I’ve attended, the stadiums were full to the brim. Although, it must be mentioned that Korean baseball stadiums aren’t quite as large as those found in the US. The largest baseball stadium (Lotte Giants) can seat 28,500 people and the smallest stadium (Nexen Heroes) can only seat a maximum of 10,000 people. Regarding the stadium size, going to a Nexen Heroes game definitely reminds me of attending a Triple-A or Double-A baseball game back in the States. However, in spite of the size, a Korean baseball game is definitely much louder and more lively than any baseball game I’ve ever been to back home. The reason for this is quite simple: Koreans don’t stop cheering the entire game. Can you imagine it?
Of the games I’ve attended, the stadium is essentially cut in half. Fans of the home team sit on the first base side and fans of the opposing team sit on the third base side. Hardly will one see a person decked out in home team apparel sit on the opposing side; one’s experience will be spoiled if stuck sitting amid the opposing team’s cheering crowd. Again, the reason for this is quite simple: each side literally stands up the entire time when their team is batting and sings and cheers along with the announcer/dancer and impeccable cheerleaders. Did I say cheerleaders? Yep, sure did.
During my first Korean baseball game, I was a bit shocked to see a bunch of scantily dressed Korean cheerleaders dance along with loud k-pop music on an in-your-face stage set up above the dugout. In truth, sure, it was very pleasing to the eye at first, but it got very annoying very quickly. I go the game to watch the game and relax, not to stand up almost the entire time watching and cheering along with cheerleaders. However, it’s like a K-pop concert and Koreans appear to love it. Over half the stadium is focused on the cheer squad, announcer, and music while loudly cheering and dancing instead of watching the detailed happenings of the game. In addition, of the games I’ve seen, I’d have to say that 90% of the time the “ceremonial pitch” is thrown by a beautiful Korean model or K-pop star:
Now, I wonder if MLB would ever choose to include baseball cheerleaders.
When I attend a Korean baseball game, I normally sit in the section just aside home plate, which costs around $20-30. How cheap! Home plate seats are a bargain in Korea compared to paying perhaps $300-500 for the same seat back in the US. These particular seats are perfect for those who just want to chill and focus on the game, and are far enough away from the unassigned first-come first-serve crazy cheer sections that line both sides of the field ($7-$17).
Regarding the happenings of the game, I’ve found several aspects that are quite different and interesting. Now, I have never seen a coach argue with an umpire, or even a player really talk-back to an umpire. It’s just not really done, whereas back in MLB, everyday I read about a coach and/or player getting ejected because of a flagrant argument. All Korean teams use a DH (Designated Hitter) rule. With 8 eight teams currently in the Korean Professional Baseball League, each team plays 133 games in the regular season, with each team playing each other at least 19 times. Foreigners do play in the Korean Baseball league, but I’ve only seen them used as a pitcher or a DH. In addition, team rosters are only allowed to have a maximum of 2 foreigners.
On the 17th of July every year, the best players participate in the Korean All-Star game. The franchises participating are divided into two regions: East (SK, Samsung, Doosan, Lotte) and West (Kia, Hanwha, LG and Heroes). Unlike in the MLB the Korean All-star game does not determine home-field advantage in the Korean Series (Korean “World Series”). Regarding the playoffs, currently, the top four teams qualify for the post season based on win/loss records. However, the team with the best record gains a direct entry into the Korean Series, while the other three teams compete for the remaining place in a “step-ladder” playoff system.
Traditionally, Korea Professional Baseball games have a maximum number of extra innings before a game is declared an official tie. The Korean Baseball Organization abolished this limit for the 2008 season, however, it was reinstated in 2009 with a 12-innings limit imposed during both regular season and playoff games. However, no extra-innings are played in a double-header. Starting from the 2009 season, tied games count as a loss for both teams for percentage calculation purposes. From 2002 until 2007 they were considered a “no game” and prior to this they counted as half a win and half a loss. Any playoff games ending in an official tie are replayed, thereby raising the possibility of an extended series containing more than the originally scheduled 5 or 7 games.
I hope you found this interesting. Go SK WYVERNS!