South Korea has produced a handful of Major League Baseball talents worth remembering. In 1994, Park Chan Ho became the first South Korean player to participate in a Major League game, and there have been around two dozen added followers to enter the Big Leagues. Numerous Korean-born Major League players have come to the US as amateur free agents. Still, the Korean Baseball Organization does have an agreement with MLB, which gives its veterans opportunities to play in America.
With both their national and international success, here are five of the most famous baseball players from South Korea.
Choo Shin-Soo was a famous amateur South Korean pitcher before signing as an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. Choo became the championship series MVP after striking out 33 hitters over 20 2/3 innings in six shows. He is the greatest and most famous MLB player to ever come out of South Korea.
Choo led a 15-year career, and while being a solid player for many teams, he’s only formed one All-Star team in 2018. That’s in spite of posting three different seasons with at least a.285 average, 20 steals, and 20 home runs. The offensive player is easily the most accomplished one to come out of his country with career marks so far of an average of .275 with 20 961 runs, 218 home runs, and 782 RBI. Choo had some periods with injuries but has shown durability by playing in about 144 games in eight of 12 full seasons.
Choo is one of four offensive South Korea players ever to take 1,000 plate appearances. With 7,157 in his career, the baseball player is the only one to come to bat over 1,100 times.
Park Chan Ho
After debuting with the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 8, 1994, Park Chan-Ho became the first Korean-born player in the Major League Baseball, and that was the start of his lengthy career. It took him a couple of seasons to find a groove, but he became a fixed regular in the Dodgers rotation once he did.
The Asian-born pitcher has achieved the most success in Major League history (124), though he also holds the record of being the only one ever to pass two grand slams in the same inning. Park posted a 124–98 record throughout his 17-year career, and he added 1,715 strikeouts and a 4.36 ERA. In 2001, the pitcher was an All-Star, and later that year, he yielded the 71st home run of the season to Barry Bonds. Succeeding his MLB career, Park played one season in the KBO and one season in Japan, where he went 5-10, having a 5.06 ERA at the age of 39.
The South Korean baseball player made history when he reached Major League Baseball. Ryu Hyun-Jin was the first KBO veteran to come directly to MLB, and the player did so at a record price.
Ryu achieved 14 wins in every one of his first two seasons with the Dodgers but missed the 2015 season after his shoulder surgery. After his return in 2016, Ryu suffered an elbow ailment that needed surgery, and subsequent to a fast start in 2018, he was pushed back to the disabled list by a groin injury. Though in total, in 2018, Ryu was 7–3 with a 1.97 ERA and was the first Korean-born pitcher to begin a World Series game. The pitcher started his All-Star team in 2019 and, after working 14–5 with a league-low 2.32 ERA, was the runner-up in Cy Young balloting. Ryu went 5–2 with a 2.69 ERA after he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign.
Kim Byung-Hyun was one of the most productive South Korean players in history, though he is arguably best-known for one of the most challenging stretches of his career. He was the first Asian-born baseball player to have won a World Series championship.
Kim enjoyed his nine-year career as a reliever and a starter. He played in 394 games (87 starts) and registered 86 saves. The baseball player enjoyed his best season in 2002, creating his lone All-Star team and ending the year with a career-low 2.04 earned-run average and a career-high 36 saves for the Diamondbacks. After Kim left MLB, he eventually played in KBO but struggled in four of his seasons. He was 11–23 with a 6.19 ERA in 78 games.
Kang Jung-Ho was one of the most highly praised players to come from South Korea, hitting 40 home runs and posting a .356 during his KBO season before being posted to the Major Leagues.
However, Kang encountered a few off-the-field issues, which impeded what was beginning to look like what would become a solid career. The baseball player finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, but Kang’s season was slashed a few weeks short after he suffered a knee injury, which lingered into the following year. Still, the South Korean player hit a career-high of 21 homers in 2016, despite playing in just 103 games. Kang hit .254 with 146 RBI and 46 home runs in 297 games in his career.