It’s anyone’s guess when Major League Baseball will return, but to fill the void Korea is stepping up with live action courtesy of the KBO League, and you really should be watching when it airs this week.
What is the KBO?
The KBO League was foundered in 1982 with six teams, expanding to its current 10 in 2015. These 10 teams play a 144 game season, with a five-team playoff series leading to crowning a champion. Teams have to rely on home-grown talent, with a strict limit on each club only carrying three foreign players into the season.
Rules are largely the same as U.S. baseball, however one key difference is how the KBO League can allow games to end in ties. There are strict 12 inning limits on single games (expanded to 15 innings in the playoffs) making for a more predictable viewing experience. You know roughly how long a KBO League game will take, without the risk of it languishing long into the night — and let’s face it, that’s good considering games will begin at 1 am ET.
Who are the teams?
Perhaps the greatest thing about Korean baseball is that teams aren’t necessarily based on geographic location, rather playing for the brands that own them. This is perfect for a U.S. baseball fan wading in for the first time. You may not have strong opinions about Daegu vs. Gwangju, but you might own a Samsung phone, or drive a Kia, which gives you an innate rooting decision.
- Doosan Bears (Seoul): Owned by brewing giant InBev, they were originally foundered by a brewery.
- Hanwha Eagles (Daejeon): Run by the massive Hanwha business conglomerate, the team was started by a candy company.
- Kia Tigers (Gwanju): The Kia motor company.
- Kiwoom Heroes (Seoul): A transient club, naming rights are currently owned by the Kiwoom Securities company, but have been owned in the past by Hyundai and Nexen Tire.
- KT Wiz (Seoul): Owned by Korea Telecom.
- LG Twins (Seoul): The LG electronics company owns the rights to the team.
- Lotte Giants (Busan): Run by the Lotte Conglomeration, which owns candy factories, hotels, duty free stores and movie theaters.
- NC Dinos (Changwon): Owned by the NCSoft video game studio which produced Guild Wars.
- Samsung Lions (Daegu): Owned by the Samsung electronics company.
- SK Wyverns (Incheon): The SK Conglomerate controls petroleum, chemical and energy industries in Korea.
So the choice is yours! Candy, beer, electronics, video games, cars — find whichever brand you like the most and start rooting!
Are there any players in the league I might know?
There isn’t a serious big-name player in the league right now, but here are the foreign players currently in the KBO League.
Also, former MVP Josh Lindblom got signed by the Brewers based on the strength of his incredible 2019 season. So there’s plenty of value in watching these players.
One of the best parts of Korean baseball in general is that batflips aren’t just accepted, they’re encouraged and celebrated. No unwritten rules about “honor” or “respect,” just a big ol’ hunk of wood flying through the air for our joy and amusement.
You owe it to yourself to read Mina Kimes’ amazing piece on Korean bat flips for ESPN the Magazine.
Any other resources I should have?
And if you’re in waaaay too deep ... Korean Weather Reports.
Live sports? I’m in. How do I watch?
The 2020 KBO League will air live on ESPN starting at 1 a.m. ET on May 5th. The first televised game will be between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions.