Hyun-Jin Ryu won the gold-medal game for South Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is the first player to be named KBO Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. He is the most successful Korean player to make the jump from the KBO to the major leagues. He is the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team in Major League Baseball to have every game broadcast in Korean.
He is the first Korean-born pitcher to start both an All-Star Game and a World Series Game. At four years and $80 million, he signed the biggest free-agent deal for a pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history last winter. In addition — and he refutes it, but video attests — he is the first KBO pitcher to pimp his bat in an MLB game after hitting his first career home run.
With MLB on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the most accomplished Korean player in major league history and one the most recognized celebrities in his home country, Hyun-Jin Ryu, is now sitting at home watching the KBO.
And according to him? So should you.
“American-style baseball revolves around power, home runs, slugging percentage. Korean baseball is more based on your on-base percentage, closer to traditional baseball,” Ryu told ESPN through a translator from his spring training home in Florida. “They play sound fundamentals, are contact-focused. It doesn’t matter what part of the lineup you are, if you need to bunt, you bunt. It’s more classic baseball versus current MLB baseball, which is power-focused.”
And while the KBO remains one of the few professional sports leagues to have returned to action, they had to do so without one of their primary assets — their fans. Ryu deems KBO fans a vital part of what he referred to as the singular “pageantry” of Korean baseball.
“Korean fans are fanatical. It’s a celebration, a big party!” he explained. “Every game is a celebration, regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. The fans are there to cheer you on, no matter what. They don’t boo because it’s a sign of disrespect. During baseball games, people in in America just sit around. In KBO, you can stand up for an entire game. And it’s really, really loud.”
An All-Star every year in seven seasons with the Hanwha Eagles, Ryu became one of the KBO’s most dominant starting pitchers.
Ryu joined Hanwha as its second overall draft pick out of high school in 2006 and went on to become one of the greatest stars in franchise history, so revered that no Eagles player has worn his No. 99 since he signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers in 2012.
He remains close to many of his former teammates and coaches in the KBO, particularly Kim In-sik, Ryu’s first manager at Hanwha and skipper of the Korean 2009 World Baseball Classic silver medal-winning team. Kim even officiated Ryu’s lavish January 2018 wedding to TV sports announcer Bae Ji-hyun, who gave birth on Sunday to the couple’s first child, a girl named Lucy.
Since joining the league in 1996, the Eagles have won only one Korean Series championship, back in 1999, but they’ve finished as runners-up five times, most recently in 2006. Ryu believes they have the goods to get back into championship contention.
“No. 1! My favorite team!” Ryu exclaimed, in English.
“I think they will do very well because some of their star players are returning, in particular, Jung Jin-ho and Lee Yong-kyu,” Ryu continued through a translator. “Injured players are returning; veteran players are returning. Foreign players are also returning. The majority of foreigners in the KBO are brand new to a team so they have pressure to perform. They will have the same foreign players in back-to-back years, and that helps consistency and camaraderie. And they have good starters.”
As Ryu envisaged, the Eagles’ pitching has been solid so far this season, but they currently have one of the lowest-ranking offenses in the 10-team league. They’re in second-to-last place (XXX5-9) after a slow start in the 144-game season.
Seeing KBO games broadcast on national television in the United States has been a great source of pride for Ryu, who credits his seven years of playing Korean professional baseball as indispensable to his success in the majors. With a 2.98 career ERA in MLB, Ryu is currently the only pitcher born in an Asian country with a sub-3.00 career ERA (minimum of 500 innings pitched) in major league history.
“KBO has a very disciplined structure. There’s a lot of focus on teamwork, in terms of adhering to the team standards versus self,” he explained. “Coaches in the KBO, especially in Hanwha, taught me to be very disciplined; it made me mentally stronger. They gave me confidence to pitch at the most elite level. I was taught discipline and the mental aspects of the game. But mostly, being in the KBO taught me responsibility, and that has been fundamental in my career.”
And in case you were wondering, even as a pitcher, he has no issues with the renowned flamboyance of KBO bat flips.
“I’m used to it so, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s part of our culture. That’s Korean baseball.”
Shortened MLB amateur draft to remain at New Jersey studio
NEW YORK — Major League Baseball’s shortened amateur draft will remain at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the first round on June 10.
MLB shortened the selections to five rounds and 160 picks in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, by far the fewest since the draft started in 1965. Before the pandemic, the draft had been scheduled to take place at Omaha, Nebraska, ahead of the now-canceled College World Series.
Clubs were able to reduce the draft as part of their March 26 agreement with the players’ association. The combined value of their signing bonus pools is $235,906,800 and the amount of signing bonus pool money eliminated is $29,578,100.
The first 37 picks will take place on the opening day and the remainder on June 11. The deadline for selected players to sign was pushed back from July 10 to Aug. 1.
Detroit picks first, followed by Baltimore, Miami and Kansas City.
Houston was stripped of its first- and second-round selections as part of MLB penalties for using a video camera to steal catcher’s signs. Boston lost its second-round selection for improper use of video.
Baseball’s draft was long held by conference call at the commissioner’s office in New York. The draft was moved to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for 2007 and 2008.
Residents of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are subject to the draft.
As part of the agreement with the union, slot values to determine signing bonus pools will remain at 2019 levels and players passed over in the draft are limited to signing bonuses of $20,000 or less. That might cause more high school players to go to college. And because of the NCAA’s limit of 11.7 baseball scholarships, the change may lead to more prospects attending junior college.
All but six of last year’s sixth-round picks signed for $200,000 or more. Chicago Cubs catcher/first baseman Ethan Hearn had the highest bonus of the round at $950,000, deciding to sign rather than attend Mississippi State. San Francisco signed right-hander John McDonald, selected 326th on the 11th round, for $797,500, and Arizona gave left-hander Avery Short, picked 362nd on the 12th round, $922,500.
Among 1,082 players who were in a big league game last year after coming through the draft, 180 were first-round picks and 589 were selected during the first five rounds, according to the commissioner’s office. There were 204 from rounds six to 10, 102 from rounds 11-15 and 63 from rounds 16-20. Just 74 were from rounds 21-30 and only 50 from rounds 31-50.
Once unlimited, the draft was cut to 50 rounds in 1998 and to 40 rounds in 2012.
Signing bonus pools started in 2012 and limit the amount of money teams can spend. Each slot in the first 10 rounds is a signed a value — the range last year was $8,415,300 down to $142,200 — and each team’s values are added to a form a pool. Signing bonuses in the first 10 rounds count against the pool along with the amounts above $125,000 of players selected after the 10th round or who were bypassed in the draft and then signed.
A team that exceeds its pool is taxed, and a club more than 5% above loses a first-round draft pick the next year — a threshold never reached.
The union turned down a proposal that would have kept rounds 6-10 in exchange for cutting their slot values in half.
Teams drafted 1,217 players over 40 rounds last June.
As part of the deal with the union, teams have the right to cut the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. That fits in MLB’s proposal to cut their minimum minor league affiliations from 160 to 120 in 2021, allowing each organization to drop one farm team.
For both 2020 and ’21, only up to $100,000 of each signing bonus is due within 30 days of approval and 50% of the remainder on July 1 in both 2020 and ’21.
Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – The day Mike Schmidt realized it was time to go
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1989, Mike Schmidt retired.
Schmidt had played in 42 games that season, he was tied for second in home runs (six) by National League third basemen at the time, and he was the active career leader in homers, RBIs, runs scored and total bases. But, at age 39, his recent play had been unacceptable to him.
“We were on the bus, leaving [San Francisco’s] Candlestick [Park] for the airport to fly to San Diego,” said Bob Dernier, then a Phillies outfielder. “Mike was in the back of the bus with Chris James, Bedrock (Steve Bedrosian) and a few others. Mike looked at us and said, ‘I think that’s it, I’m done.’ Chris James started bawling. He said, ‘No, no, Mike, you can’t!’ Mike told me, ‘I can’t catch. I can’t throw.’ He was embarrassed about his defense. Defense was so important to him. He used to tell me that the All-Star team should be the Gold Glove team. He valued that more than anything, even when he was leading the league in home runs.”
Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves; only Brooks Robinson (16) won more at third base. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, which remains an NL record. He finished with 548 homers, most by a third baseman. His combination of power offensively and grace and skill defensively was breathtaking; indeed, he could play the piano and move it, too. Schmidt won three MVPs, including back-to-back years, and finished third two other times. By most measures, he is the greatest third baseman ever.
And yet it was never enough for Schmidt; he was constantly fretting about his swing. Nearly 30 years after retirement, he told me, “When I was struggling, if you had told me that I should set up in the box with my back to the pitcher, I would have tried it.”
Schmidt was hitting .203 at the time he retired. So he accompanied the team to San Diego that night, and officially announced his retirement the following day. It was so emotional. He broke down several times.
“As soon as Mike said he was done, Bedrock and I started planning the celebratory party,” Dernier said. “We were going to get Harry [Kalas, the club’s legendary play-by-play broadcaster] to speak, we were thinking about getting some Heinkens on ice. We had a great party. We were all so sad to see him go, but he had so much pride in his play, who was I to argue with that? I saw him do some amazing things. Mike was just mesmerizing.”
Other baseball notes for May 29
In 1981, Ellis Valentine was traded from the Expos to the Mets. In 1982, Valentine pointed his right pinky finger in my face and said, “I have more talent in this finger than most players have in their entire body.”
In 2010, Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game. He won the NL Cy Young Award that year. He had a replica Cy Young made for his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, because, Halladay said, Ruiz had so much to do with his success.
In 1941, Joe DiMaggio struck out for the third time all year. He would finish the season with 30 homers, 13 strikeouts and a 56-game hitting streak. I wrote that stat 35 years ago, and a radio guy got a little mixed up, saying, “I just read the other day an amazing stat: In the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, he struck out only 13 times.” Yikes.
Biggest needs and best fits — 2020 MLB draft guide for all 30 teams
The 2020 MLB draft, to be held June 10 and 11, will be unlike any other. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the draft will be conducted remotely and limited to just five rounds, down from 40 in 2019. Teams will be able to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players, at a price of $20,000.
Additionally, college and high school prospects had their spring seasons cut short or eliminated altogether, leaving MLB teams with much less information on the players than they typically would have.
Here is a guide for all 30 teams, with each organization’s greatest needs, the best fits in the draft, each team’s typical approach, a list of its picks this year and more.
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