The KBO League (Korean: KBO 리그), originally called the Korea Baseball Championship (Korean: 한국야구선수권대회), is the highest level league of baseball in South Korea. The KBO League was founded with six franchises in 1982, and has expanded to ten franchises. The KBO League is the most popular sports league in South Korea. The Kia Tigers are the most successful team, having won 11 out of the 38 championships.
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2021 KBO League season
|No. of teams||10|
|NC Dinos (1st title)|
|Most titles||Kia Tigers (11 titles)|
Fox Sports (Asia-Pacific)
In comparison with American Major League Baseball, ESPN reports that the KBO level of play "appears to be somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A, on average, though the best players are more likely to be MLB-quality than your typical Double-A league." Historically, the KBO is known for its vocal and exuberant fan base, as well as the widespread practice of bat flips (ppa-dun (Korean: 빠던), a portmanteau of the "first syllables of the words for 'bat' and 'throw'") by hitters after stroking what they think will be a home run. In the KBO, the bat flipping tradition dates back to the 1990s.
Starting with the 2015 season, each team plays 144 games in the regular season, increased from 128 in 2015 with the addition of the KT Wiz to the league. Each team plays every other team 16 times. In general, Korean teams play six games a week, with every Monday off.
KBO All-Star GameEdit
In mid-July of every season, the best players participate in the KBO All-Star Game. The franchises participating are divided into two sets of teams: "Dream All-Stars" (Doosan, KT, Lotte, Samsung, and SSG) and "Nanum All-Stars" (Kia, Hanwha, LG, NC and Kiwoom). The KBO All-star game does not determine home-field advantage in the KBO Korean Series.
The KBO League's season culminates in its championship series, known as the KBO Korean Series. Currently, the top five teams qualify for the post-season based on win/loss records. The lowest-qualifying teams face off in a step-ladder playoff system, where each winner then faces the next-highest team, culminating in the Korean Series against the top-ranked team.
- KBO Wild Card Game: fifth-place team vs. fourth-place team
- Fourth-place team starts the series with a 1–0 lead and advances with one win or a tie, while the fifth-place team must win twice to advance.
- KBO Semi-playoffs: KBO Wild Card Game winner vs. third-place team
- Best of five series.
- KBO Playoffs: KBO Semi-playoffs winner vs. second-place team
- Best of five series.
- KBO Korean Series: KBO Playoffs winner vs. first-place team
- Best of seven series.
Any playoff games ending in an official tie are replayed, thereby raising the possibility of a close series containing more than the scheduled five or seven games.
Traditionally, South Korean professional baseball games have a maximum number of extra innings before a game is declared an official tie. The KBO abolished this limit for the 2008 season, but it was reinstated in 2009, with a 12-inning limit imposed during the regular season, and a 15-inning limit for playoff games.
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The first game was played on March 27, 1982, between the Samsung Lions and the MBC Chungyong at Dongdaemun Baseball Stadium, Seoul. Then-president Chun Doo-hwan threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The inaugural franchises were:
- Haitai Tigers, based in Gwangju
- Lotte Giants, based in Busan
- MBC Chungyong, based in Seoul
- OB Bears, based in Daejeon
- Sammi Superstars, based in Incheon
- Samsung Lions, based in Daegu
The first Korean Series featured the Bears versus the Lions, with OB winning the championship 4-games-to-1, with a tie.
The Haitai Tigers dominated the 1980s, winning the Korean Series five times — in 1983, 1986, and 1987 through 1989. They were led by pitcher Sun Dong-yol and infielders Kim Seong-han and Han Dae-hwa. Other KBO stars whose careers took off in the 1980s were sluggers Chang Jong-hoon and Lee Man-soo.
From 1982 to 1988, the regular season was divided into two (a spring season and a fall season), with a first-half pennant winner and a latter-half pennant winner. The two pennant winners then played each other for the Korean Series championship. The 1982 campaign featured an 80-game (in total) season, which expanded to 100 games from 1983 to 1984. Rosters for each team were small (sometimes as few as 14 players), and many players in the league both pitched and batted. Bang Soo-won of the Haitai Tigers pitched the first no-hitter in Korean professional baseball history, in 1984 against the Sammi Superstars.
Mid-season 1985, the Sammi Superstars were sold and became known as the Chungbo Pintos, and the full season expanded to 110 games. Because the Samsung Lions won both half-season pennants (with a still single-season record .706 winning percentage), the Lions won the title outright so no Korean Series was played that year.
Because of the lack of a postseason in 1985, the next year saw some major changes, with the adoption of a playoff system, in which the top two teams from each half-season played for the right to get to the Korean Series. 1986 also saw the OB Bears moving from Daejeon to share Jamsil Baseball Stadium with MBC Chungyong in Seoul. A new franchise, the Binggrae Eagles, joined the league, replacing the vacancy in Daejeon made by OB's move, and expanding the league to seven teams. From 1986 to 1988, the regular season shrunk to a total of 108 games.
In the 1990s the Tigers were again dominant, winning the championship four times in the decade — 1991, 1993, 1996, and 1997. The Tigers were led by hitting-machine Lee Jong-beom and slugger Lee Ho-joon. Other KBO players who starred in the 1990s were Eagles' pitcher Song Jin-woo, who eventually became the all-time KBO leader in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched; slugging catcher Park Kyung-oan, the first catcher in KBO history to hit 300 home runs; and stolen base king Jeon Jun-ho. But probably the most notable hitters to emerge from the 1990s were the Lions' Lee Seung-yuop and Yang Joon-hyuk, who between them now hold most of the KBO's career offensive records.
From 1991 to 1998, the season increased to 126 games. The Lotte Giants won the Korean Series championship in 1992; the team has not won it since. There was little other change during this period except for a few major sponsors: in 1993 the Binggrae Eagles became the Hanwha Eagles, in 1996 the Pacific Dolphins became the Hyundai Unicorns, and in 1999 the OB Bears became the Doosan Bears.
The 1998 Korean Series was won by the Hyundai Unicorns for the franchise's first championship in 16 years of existence. (The team would go on to win the championship in 2000, 2003, and 2004.)
In 1999 the season was expanded to 132 games, and the KBO separated into two divisions — the Dream League and the Magic League. The 1999 Dream League consisted of the Doosan Bears, the Lotte Giants, the Haitai Tigers, and the Hyundai Unicorns; the 1999 Magic League consisted of the Hanwha Eagles, the LG Twins, the Samsung Lions, and the Ssangbangwool Raiders. That year the Eagles — in their 14th season — won their franchise's first (and only) Korean Series championship, after 14 years in the KBO.
Bigger changes were made in 2000 when the Hyundai Unicorns moved from Incheon to Suwon, and a new franchise, the SK Wyverns, took their place in Incheon. The Ssangbangwool Raiders became defunct. The league's two-division structure slightly shifted as well, with SK taking Ssangbangwool's place in the Magic Division, and Lotte and Samsung switching divisions. Thus, the 2000 Dream League was composed of Doosan, Haitai, Hyundai, and Samsung; while the 2000 Magic League was composed of Hanwha, LG, Lotte, and SK.
Parity ruled the 2000s, with the Unicorns and Lions each winning three titles, and the upstart Wyverns winning two. The hard-luck Doosan Bears appeared in the Korean Series five times in the decade but only won it once, in 2001. Stars who emerged in the 2000s include all-time KBO hit king Park Yong-taik, the Giants' first-baseman Dae-ho Lee, and the Eagles' first-baseman Kim Tae-kyun. Other notable players from the era include slugging third-basemen Lee Bum-ho and Choi Jeong, the Bears' designated hitter Hong Sung-heon, and the Twins' long-time outfielder Lee Byung-kyu.
Despite its string of championships in the early 2000s, the Hyundai Unicorns franchise was disbanded in 2008. It was re-founded as the Woori Heroes and moved to Mok-dong in Seoul. In 2010, the team's naming rights were sold to Nexen Tire and the team was renamed the Nexen Heroes until the end of the 2018 season, when its naming rights were sold to Kiwoom Securities.
The Samsung Lions were a powerful team in the 2010s, winning the championship four times during six straight appearances in the Korean Series (from 2010 to 2015). The Doosan Bears were also a powerhouse, appearing in the Korean Series six times in the decade (including five straight appearances from 2015 to 2019), winning it three times.
Expansion resumed in the 2010s, with the addition of the NC Dinos, located in Changwon, which joined the league in 2013. It is the first team located in Changwon, the city having previously been the second home of the nearby Lotte Giants. The KBO played 128-game seasons in 2013–2014.
In 2015, the KT Wiz became the league's tenth franchise. They play their home games in Suwon, which had not had a team since the Hyundai Unicorns' disbandment. Since 2015 the KBO has played a 144-game season each year, and has added a fifth team to the playoffs, with the introduction of the Wild Card game. In 2015 the league also increased the active roster size of each team, from 26 to 27 (of those, 25 may play in any one game).
After a number of seasons of inflated offensive production, the KBO introduced a new "dejuiced" baseball before the 2019 season. The results showed in a significant decrease in runs per game and home runs per game.
The 2020 season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but finally started play on May 5, 2020, with no fans in attendance. In response to the lack of live sports programming due to the pandemic, ESPN and the KBO League entered into an agreement to broadcast six games weekly. The Opening Day game between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions was broadcast as the first game under the agreement that night. Karl Ravech, Jason Benetti, Boog Sciambi, Eduardo Perez, and Jessica Mendoza, along with various guests, broadcast the game remotely via Internet from their homes.
Expatriate baseball players in the KBOEdit
As with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the KBO league places a cap on the number of foreign players allowed on club rosters. The foreign player limit is set at three (no more than two of them being pitchers), increased from two players from 2014. Foreign players can only sign single-season contracts, and they are restricted by a salary cap. Since 2019, the total compensation for a foreign player has been capped at $1 million. The foreign hitters on each team are expected to provide power in the middle of the order, while the foreign pitchers are expected to anchor the starting rotation. As with foreign players in the NPB, many of the most celebrated foreign players came to Korea after not finding success in the Major Leagues.
The KBO first began allowing foreign players in 1998, when each team was allowed to sign up to two imports. Traditionally, teams chose one hitter and one pitcher, although there were exceptions. (In 2001 and 2002, KBO teams were allowed three foreign-born players, but only two of them could be on the field at the same time.) By 2012, teams were using all their foreign-player allotments on pitchers, and there were no more foreign hitters in the KBO. After this happened again in 2013, the following season the KBO League raised the foreign-player limit to three for each team, but mandated that at least one foreign player had to be a hitter (again, with only two such players on the field at a time).
American Tyrone Woods was the first notable import. Debuting with the Doosan Bears in 1998, Woods was the first foreign player to hit a home run (as well as the first to be ejected from a game by an umpire). In his first year Woods set a then-KBO record with 42 homers and won the MVP award (becoming the first foreign player to win the award). In five years in Korea, Woods hit 174 homers, drove in 510 runs, and batted .294. (He later found additional success in Nippon Professional Baseball.) Woods left Korea with the longest career of any foreign player in KBO history, a record later eclipsed by hitter Jay Davis and pitcher Dustin Nippert. Davis played seven seasons for Hanwha (1999–2002, 2004–2006), compiling a .313 batting average, 167 home runs, and 591 RBI during that span.
Foreign pitchers with extended careers in the KBO include Dustin Nippert, who compiled a win-loss record of 102–51 and 1,082 strikeouts in eight seasons (a foreign player record); and Danny Rios, who in six seasons was 90–59 with 807 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.01, which is the lowest career ERA of any foreign pitcher in the KBO. Josh Lindblom pitched in the KBO for five seasons, compiling a 63–34 record and 750 strikeouts. Rios was given the 2008 KBO League Most Valuable Player Award, Nippert was KBO MVP in 2016, and Lindblom won the award in 2019.
American Jerry Royster was the first-ever non-Korean to take the helm of one of South Korea's professional baseball clubs when he was signed as manager of the Lotte Giants in 2007. (Royster served as the Giants' manager through the 2010 season.)
Over the league's history, more than 200 Americans have played in the KBO; other countries which have produced many current and former KBO players include the Dominican Republic (with more than 80 players), and Venezuela (with more than 20 players).
KBO players in Japan and the U.S.Edit
Several Korean players have had successful careers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), most notably Isao Harimoto (birth name Jang Hun), who holds the record for most hits in the Japanese professional leagues (and is in the top ten in many other career lists). Harimoto played in the 1960s and 1970s, before the formation of the KBO. Similarly, Baek In-chun played professionally in Japan from 1963 to 1981, compiling 209 home runs, 776 RBI, and 1,831 hits in the NPB. (He returned to Korea for his final three seasons as a player.) Lee Seung-yuop, who holds the KBO records for career home runs, runs scored, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS, also played eight seasons in the NPB, accumulating an additional 159 home runs and 439 RBI. Other KBO hitters who had some success in the NPB include Kim Tae-kyun and Dae-ho Lee. Korean pitchers who have had an impact in the NPB include Sun Dong-yol, Lim Chang-yong, and Seung-hwan Oh (who led the NPB in saves in both 2014 and 2015).
Several Korean players have also successfully transitioned from the KBO to American Major League Baseball, starting in 1994 with pitcher Chan Ho Park. (Prior to Park, the South Korea-born Mexican pitcher Ernesto Carlos [born as Lee Won-Kuk] was signed to an American minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants' organization in 1968 after having found success in the NPB. Similarly, pitcher Park Chul-soon signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 1980. Neither Ernesto Carlos nor Park Chul-soon, however, made it to the Major Leagues.) Other former KBO players who have had lengthy MLB careers include outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and pitchers Hyun-jin Ryu and Byung-hyun Kim. Altogether, 23 South Korean players have made it to the MLB as of 2020.
|Doosan Bears||Seoul||Jamsil Baseball Stadium||25,553||1982|
|Hanwha Eagles||Daejeon||Daejeon Hanwha Life Eagles Park||13,000||1985||1986|
|Kia Tigers||Gwangju||Gwangju-Kia Champions Field||27,000||1982|
|Kiwoom Heroes||Seoul||Gocheok Sky Dome||16,813||2008|
|KT Wiz||Suwon, Gyeonggi||Suwon kt wiz Park||22,800||2013||2015|
|LG Twins||Seoul||Jamsil Baseball Stadium||25,553||1982|
|Lotte Giants||Busan||Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium||26,800||1975||1982|
|NC Dinos||Changwon, Gyeongnam||Changwon NC Park||22,011||2011||2013|
|Samsung Lions||Daegu||Daegu Samsung Lions Park||24,000||1982|
|SSG Landers||Incheon||Incheon SSG Landers Field||26,000||2000|
|Hyundai Unicorns||Suwon||Suwon Baseball Stadium||1982||2008|
|Ssangbangwool Raiders||Jeonju||Jeonju Baseball Stadium||1990||1991||1999|
|1982–1999||No sponsor||Korea Professional Baseball|
|2000–2001||Samsung Securities||Samsung Fn.com Cup Professional Baseball|
|2002–2004||Samsung Securities Cup Professional Baseball|
|2005–2008||Samsung Electronics||Samsung PAVV Professional Baseball|
|2009–2010||CJ Internet||CJ Magumagu Professional Baseball|
|2011||Lotte Card||Lotte Card Professional Baseball|
|2012||Paldo||Paldo Professional Baseball|
|2013–2014||Korea Yakult||Korea Yakult 7even Professional Baseball|
|2015–2017||Tirebank||Tirebank KBO League|
|2018–2019||Shinhan Bank||Shinhan Bank MY CAR KBO League|
|2020–present||Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League|
On 11 March 2020, the KBO tendered international media rights for the KBO League from 2020 through 2023. It was reported that there had been potential interest from American sports network ESPN, due to the disruption of domestic sports (including Major League Baseball) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 4 May, the KBO announced that ESPN had acquired U.S. and international media rights to the KBO League, airing a live game daily (largely falling during overnight and early-morning hours in the U.S.) during the regular season, along with coverage of the postseason and Korean Series. For Canada viewers, aired on TSN, as well as Fox Sports broadcast the league for Asia-Pacific viewers, as the part of Disney's ESPN International coverage.
|Doosan Bears||LG Twins||Hanwha Eagles||Kia Tigers||Kiwoom Heroes|
|Jamsil Baseball Stadium||Hanwha Life Eagles Park||Gwangju-Kia Champions Field||Gocheok Sky Dome|
|Capacity: 25,553||Capacity: 13,000||Capacity: 27,000||Capacity: 16,813|
|KT Wiz||Lotte Giants||NC Dinos||Samsung Lions||SSG Landers|
|Suwon kt wiz park||Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium||Changwon NC Park||Daegu Samsung Lions Park||Munhak Baseball Stadium|
|Capacity: 22,800||Capacity: 26,800||Capacity: 22,011||Capacity: 24,000||Capacity: 26,000|
The league has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity, with increased attendance every year.
The record was smashed again in 2017 season with over 8.4 million fans to their games during the regular season. Bears, Twins, Giants and Tigers all attracted over 1 million fans. The average game attendance was above 11,600 fans.
This increase in popularity has been accompanied by the building of larger and more modern ballparks to further enhance the fan experience and their expenditures during games, such as Gwangju-Kia Champions Field (2014), Gocheok Sky Dome (2016), Daegu Samsung Lions Park (2016), and Changwon NC Park (2019).
KBO League players and coaches have formed a number of associations:
- Korea Professional Baseball Players Association (KPBPA)
- Korea Professional Baseball Alumni Association — retired players
- Ilgoo Club — former and active coaches and managers
Korean Series championsEdit
|Club||Champions||Runners-Up||Winning Seasons||Runners-Up Seasons|
|Kia Tigers||11||0||1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2009, 2017||—|
|Samsung Lions||8||10||1985, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014||1982, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1993, 2001, 2004, 2010, 2015|
|Doosan Bears||6||8||1982, 1995, 2001, 2015, 2016, 2019||2000, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2020|
|SSG Landers||4||4||2007, 2008, 2010, 2018||2003, 2009, 2011, 2012|
|Hyundai Unicorns (defunct)||4||2||1998, 2000, 2003, 2004||1994, 1996|
|LG Twins||2||4||1990, 1994||1983, 1997, 1998, 2002|
|Lotte Giants||2||3||1984, 1992||1985, 1995, 1999|
|Hanwha Eagles||1||5||1999||1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 2006|
|Kiwoom Heroes||0||2||—||2014, 2019|
- 1st – Champions
- 2nd – Runners-up
- PO – Playoff loser
- SPO – Semi-playoff loser
- WC – Wild card game loser
- – Did not qualify
- – Did not participate
Single-season Player Year Batting average
Baek In-chun .412 1982 Lee Jong-beom .393 1994 Jang Hyo-jo .387 1987 Home Runs
Lee Seung-yeop 56 2003 Lee Seung-yeop 54 1999 Shim Jeong-soo 53 2003 Byung-ho Park 53 2015 Hits
Seo Geon-chang 201 2014 José Miguel Fernández 199 2020 José Miguel Fernández 197 2019 RBIs
Byung-ho Park 146 2015 Lee Seung-yeop 144 2003 Choi Hyoung-woo 144 2016 Stolen Bases
Lee Jong-beom 84 1984 Jeon Jun-ho 75 1993 Lee Jong-beom 73 1983 Lee Jong-beom 73 1993 OPS
Eric Thames 1.288 2015 Baek In-chun 1.237 1982 Jung-ho Kang 1.198 2014 Strikeouts
Byung-ho Park 161 2015 Choi Hyoung-woo 146 2018 Xavier Scruggs 144 2018
Career Player Years played Batting average
minimum 3,000 plate appearances
Jang Hyo-jo .331 1982–1992 Park Min-woo .328 2013–present Kim Tae-kyun .323 2001–present Home Runs
Lee Seung-yeop 467 1995–2017 Yang Joon-hyuk 351 1993–2010 Choi Jeong 342 2005–present Chang Jong-hoon 340 1986–2005 Hits
Park Yong-taik 2,458 2002–present Yang Joon-hyuk 2,318 1993–2010 Park Han-yi 2,174 2001–2019 RBIs
Lee Seung-yeop 1,498 1995–2017 Yang Joon-hyuk 1,389 1993–2010 Kim Tae-kyun 1,329 2001–present Stolen Bases
Jeon Jun-ho 550 1991–2009 Lee Jong-beom 510 1993–2012 Lee Dae-hyung 505 2003–2019 OPS
minimum 3,000 plate appearances
Lee Seung-yeop .960 1995–2017 Yang Joon-hyuk .950 1993–2010 Kim Tae-hyun .944 2001–present Strikeouts Park Kyung-oan 1,605 1991–2013 Song Ji-man 1,451 1996–2013 Park Yong-taik 1,377 2002–present
Single-season Player Year ERA
minimum 1 inning pitched per game played by team
Sun Dong-yol 0.78 1993 Sun Dong-yol 0.89 1987 Sun Dong-yol 0.99 1986 Wins
Jang Myeong-bu 30 1983 Choi Dong-won 27 1984 Kim ll-young 25 1985 Kim Si-jin 25 1985 Strikeouts
Choi Dong-won 223 1984 Ju Hyeong-kwang 221 1996 Jang Myeong-bu 220 1983 Saves
Seung-hwan Oh 47 2006 Seung-hwan Oh 47 2011 Son Seung-lak 46 2013
Career Player Years played ERA
minimum 1,000 innings pitched
Sun Dong-yol 1.20 1985–1995 Choi Dong-won 2.46 1983–1990 Hyun-jin Ryu 2.80 2006–2012 Wins
Song Jin-woo 210 1989–2009 Jung Min-cheul 161 1992–2009 Lee Kang-chul 152 1989–2005 Strikeouts
Song Jin-woo 2,048 1989-2009 Lee Kang-chul 1,749 1989–2005 Sun Dong-yol 1,698 1985–1995 Saves
Seung-hwan Oh 277 2005–present Son Seung-lak 271 2005–2019 Lim Chang-yong 258 1995–2018
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