Your New Favourite League: The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO)

By Joey Mellows – @BaseballBrit

Bunts + bat flips + cheerleaders = The KBO                          

Turning up on time is important in the KBO. Would you want to miss these first pitches?

Why the KBO?

The KBO season starts this weekend and, for my money, it’s the most entertaining league in the world. Ticket prices are cheaper than in Japan, the atmosphere is better and louder than in the MLB, the standard is higher than in the four-team CPBL (Taiwan), and you can buy a litre of beer for £2.30 inside the stadium. Or bring a crate in with you, as that’s fine too.

What’s the baseball like?

The quality of baseball is high (roughly equivalent to Triple-A) with greater focus placed on hits, steals and bunts. This means there is more action to watch throughout the nine innings compared to where the MLB is heading – a game of three true outcomes:  strikeout, walk or homerun.

Pitching focuses more on off-speed stuff as the average velocity is lower than in the MLB. This is a hitter’s league with the average number of runs scored per game at a lofty 10.6 compared to 9.3 in the MLB in 2017.

Pitchers suffer due to the high rate of contact with batting averages currently at .286, compared to .255 in MLB, and league average ERA at 4.98 rather than 4.35 in MLB.  

Who are the teams?

The KBO League is the highest level of baseball in South Korea and was founded with six franchises in 1982, but has expanded to ten teams. Nine of the ten franchises are named after the companies or business conglomerates which own them.

Team City Joined KBO Capacity Winners
Doosan Bears Seoul 1982 25,553 5
Hanwha Eagles Daejeon 1986 13,000 1
Kia Tigers Gwangju 1982 22,244 11
KT Wiz Suwon 2015 22,067 0
LG Twins Seoul 1982 25,553 2
Lotte Giants Busan 1982 26,800 2
NC Dinos Changwon 2013 11,000 0
Nexen Heroes Seoul 2008 16,813 0
Samsung Lions Daegu 1982 24,000 8
SK Wyverns Incheon 2000 26,000 3

 

How is the season structured?

The regular season starts in late March and runs until the end of September. Each of the ten teams play 144 games with every Monday being a rest day.

The top five teams make it to the playoffs. Unusually, there is a ladder system whereby the 5th placed team faces the 4th placed and needs 2 games to win or face immediate elimination if they lose. The wildcard winner then plays the third placed team with the winner advancing to face the 2nd placed team. Both rounds require the victor to reach three wins for progression.

This means that the league winners often have to wait up to three weeks to find out who they are playing in the Korean Series. The first team to win four games are crowned champions.

Are there any different rules in the KBO?

A tied game is possible if teams cannot be separated after 12 innings of baseball. Each team is allowed to sign 3 foreign players who are usually paid well above the $545,000 MLB minimum salary. Fans are allowed to take their own food and alcohol into the ballpark, thus making an often raucous atmosphere.

Munhak Baseball Stadium – home of the SK Wyverns in Incheon

Where are the ballparks?

Roughly half of the entire South Korean population live in the city of Seoul. Five of the ten teams are also based within an hour of the city centre. The Doosan Bears and LG Twins share Jamsil Stadium which explains why they both have the same red dot on the map below:

Map of KBO teams by location – also a small selection of @BaseballBrit’s #KBO ticket stubs

How can I get a ticket?

The average attendance for games in 2017 was 11,667. Games at the weekend almost guarantee a big crowd and a lively, memorable atmosphere. Between Tuesday and Friday there are lower attendance figures but also a lot more seating options still available when walking up to buy a ticket. For foreign fans, this is sadly still the best method of gaining entry due to the complicated online ticketing sites which do not cater easily for non-Korean fans of the game.

Tickets are cheap, between £5-15 for most seats. Premium tables and seats are available but will set you back closer to £28-50. You can also cut costs by taking your own food and alcohol into the ballpark. Inside the stadiums you will often have the choice of various fast food options, including Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut, alongside more traditional Korea fayre such as tteokbokki (hot and spicy rice cakes), dried fish and chimaek (fried chicken and beer). Alcoholic choices are largely focused on lager style beer which is very cheap – roughly £2.30 for a litre.

Unique selling points: Bat flips, bunts and cheerleaders

Players are allowed to express themselves freely on the field of play in the KBO. Bat flips are frequent and often extravagant. This outpouring of emotion is rarely construed as disrespectful although there have been some fairly memorable fights and bench clearing brawls over the years too.

Bunts, so often sneered at in the MLB, are common place. The most exciting plays are the squeeze bunt, to score a dashing runner from third, and the rare ‘bunt double’, where the hitter is able to place the bunt so precisely and powerfully that he can scramble to second base.

Each team also has their own cheerleading squad – usually four young women accompanied by a cheermaster. Most players have their own walk-up song and fan chants that are led by the cheerleaders. The dances are, at times impressive, and often distracting!

How can I follow the KBO?

Still not convinced? Watch these!

Batflips – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ggQf5UP4w My favourite is number 5. Casual.

Super fan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoN1fZTKzyw – More detailed focus on the Lotte Giants and super-fan Kerry Maher

The home of 63 year old Kerry Maher – Lotte Giants super fan

 

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