Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Hater's Guide to KBO

Darius I is concerned that Persians are listening to K-pop. (source)

There are a number of different ways to win the Sid Meier’s Civilization game series. Commonly, people go for “conquest victory,” a straightforward military rampage through the adversaries’ territory. But sometimes, you might inadvertently land on the “culture victory” before you are quite finished with the conquest—because as the world is burning, your civilization is the only one putting out movies and live concerts. Even if your cultural products kinda suck in relative terms because you spent all your resources toward building up the military, you end up winning with culture just because you’re the only game in town.

That was the thought that came to my mind when I heard that ESPN began broadcasting KBO baseball. As a lifetime fan of Korea Baseball Organization, let me be straight with you: KBO baseball can be some sloppy shit. You’ve come to the wrong blog if you thought I was going to defend the quality of the KBO play just because it’s Korean. Is it entertaining? Most definitely. Are there some true top-shelf talent among the players? Absolutely. Can it produce some transcendental, sepia-colored sports movie stuff from time to time? For sure. 

Does it also regularly feature some of the most rage-inducing, dumbass dropped balls that make you hold your breath every time there is a routine pop fly? The gifs don’t lie.

(source)

Yet you’re here, because you’re desperate. You’re so desperate for baseball that you’re up at 2 a.m. watching AAA-level baseball (that’s being generous) being played in an empty stadium. Because the rest of the world is on fire, and by having a competent response to the coronavirus pandemic, Korea is inadvertently on its way toward a culture victory.

But strike that—you’re not here because you miss baseball. Or at least, baseball qua baseball is not what you miss. What you miss is the baseball experience. What you miss is the experience of being a fan. The quality of the play on the field is secondary to the fact that you belong to a fandom, and have the sense of camaraderie arising from the shared interest. Above all, what you miss is the sweet, sweet taste of sports hate.

Therefore, with a hat tip toward Deadspin (RIP) and Drew Magary, Ask a Korean! presents: The Hater’s Guide to the KBO. Why pick your KBO team based on the dead metrics like number of championships, when the object of your true desire is another group of people who sports-hate the same way you do? Let the hate wash over you, and find the hate-vibe that fits yours, among these fine ten KBO teams.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.



Incheon SK Wyverns



Basics: Founded in 2000 (8th team). Four championships (2007, 2008, 2010, 2018).

The Hate Vibe: Your team cranks out win after win in the postseason, but your fandom does not grow because your city is boring and your team wins in a boring way. Even your corporate sponsor is boring. Everyone knows Samsung and Hyundai because they make cell phones and cars. Even the lowly LG gets some name recognition with its refrigerator. What do you even buy from SK?

US Comparables:  1999-2008 San Antonio Spurs

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team:  Incheon’s Munhak Stadium has a “BBQ Zone.” They set up your group at a picnic table with grills available for rent. The seats are right in front of a convenience store that has meat and beer, and you can bring your own food as well.

You could have a worse view of the field. (source)


Bonus Hate Point:  Wyverns’ style used to be known as the “saltwater baseball,” because the team likes to go up 1-0 and squeeze out a win with its bullpen. (In fairness, Wyverns evolved more into a long ball hitting club in the past several years.)


Suwon KT Wiz


Basics:   Founded in 2013 (10th team). Never made postseason.

The Hate Vibe:   No one gives a shit about an expansion team that started seven years ago, coming in at 10th – 10th – 10th – 9th – 6th in the past five seasons. The team used to play at a rented college baseball stadium with maybe 30 people in the stands (ok fine it was more like a few thousand but it feels like 30.) A major candidate for Gyeonggi-do governor seat pledged that he would run a marathon naked if the Wiz ever won a championship, secure in the knowledge that it will never happen in his lifetime.

US Comparables:   2005-2008 Washington Nationals

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: Get in on the ground floor, I guess? Also, the newly renovated stadium looks legitimately nice.

Bonus Hate Point:  Expansion teams don’t get bonus anything.


Daegu Samsung Lions




Basics: Founded in 1982 (Co-1st team; one of two KBO teams whose name, city and corporate sponsor never changed since KBO’s founding). Eight championships (1985, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)

The Hate Vibe: You’re a rich asshole. Your corporate sponsor is the biggest sugar daddy in Korea. You love throwing money at good players and admiring your purchased championships that other teams couldn’t afford. Fans of other teams call you “Money-sung” [돈성], and the manager of other teams will straight-up tell the media: “Anyone would win with that much money.”

US Comparables: 1990s New York Yankees; Post-2010 Boston Red Sox

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: These guys win. Lions hold the KBO record for most number of wins, highest total winning percentage, highest winning percentage in a single season, and the most number of Korean Series appearances.

Bonus Hate Point: If you tell a Lions fan about how the team spends its way to championship, they will respond that the team isn’t all that rich any more since the Samsung Group changed its sponsorship policy. Which is seriously the most on-brand thing for a rich asshole.

Changwon NC Dinos



Basics: Founded in 2011 (9th team). No championship, one Korean Series appearance (2016)

The Hate Vibe: You’re based in a grungy-ass industrial city known for its shipbuilding. Your fandom is made up of dockworkers and welders looking for any excuse to put on a good sports riot. Not some candy-ass bench clearing, but a proper riot riot where the fans bring a blowtorch to tear down the stadium gates because the tickets were sold out and they were not let in. (Yes, this really happened.) Opposing team’s players wear their batting helmet even when their team is pitching because they fear the empty soju bottles aimed at their heads.

US Comparables: Philadelphia Eagles

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: This expansion team wasted no time to get good. It made post season every season since 2014, only three years after the team’s founding. Also, the dinosaur mascot is pretty sweet.


Seri, a.k.a. Swole Daddy (source)

Bonus Hate Point: Dinos fans will protest that they no longer riot. All the riots are in the past, back when Changwon/Masan was hosting the Busan Lotte Giants for six games a season in the 1980s and 90s. Don’t fall for this gaslighting—just look them right in the eyes, and you will see the glint of rioter’s DNA.


Seoul LG Twins



Basics:  Founded in 1982 (co-1st team) as MBC Blue Dragons, changed to the current name in 1990. Two championships (1990, 1994)

The Hate Vibe: You are an overshadowed second team of the city. You burn with the inferiority complex of never being your city’s favorite team and knowing exactly why—because you suck, and even when you win for a little, that gut-punch loss will come when it matters.

US Comparables:  New York Mets

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: As a Twins fan, let me tell you – there isn’t any. If wallowing in sports misery is not your thing, run and don’t look back.

Bonus Hate Point:  Despite being one of the league’s oldest teams, and despite being based in Korea’s largest city, Twins do not attract any new fans because they suck so hard. In a poll conducted shortly before the 2020 KBO season began, only 1% of the respondents aged between 18 and 29 said Twins was their favorite team. Even Seoul’s third team, Kiwoom Heroes, earned 2% of the young demographic.


Gwangju Kia Tigers



Basics:  Founded in 1982 (co-1st team) as Haitai Tigers, changed to the current name in 2001. Eleven championships (1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2009, 2017)

The Hate Vibe:  Your team is reeking with the stench of rotting tradition. Sure, your team has the most number of championships in the KBO, but vast majority of them came in the last century when the players were smoking cigarettes in the dugout. Yet you will keep talking about the history and tradition of this venerable club, simply because you need the distraction from the actual team on the field.

US Comparables: People frequently compare the Tigers to the Yankees simply because both have the most number of championships, but the Tigers’ hate signature matches perfectly with the one for Notre Dame football.

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team:  In all seriousness, the history is something special. Four Korean Series wins in a row from 1986-89 may never be repeated. Tigers also have the greatest player KBO history in Seon Dong-ryeol, a legendary fireballer. In 1986, Seon started 22 times, pitched a complete game 19 times and shutout eight times. He also appeared as a reliever/closer 17 times and earned six saves in the same season. His overall ERA that season was a mind-bending 0.99.

Vintage Seon Dong-ryeol was as good as it got. (source)
Bonus Hate Point:  If claiming regional bias is a big part of your fan experience, you will love rooting for the Tigers. The Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship of the 1980s, which massacred hundreds of protesting Gwangju citizens on May 18, 1980, ensured that no baseball game happened in Gwangju on May 18, fearing that the game would evolve into another protest. Forget your east coast bias – there’s no bias like a murdering dictator bias.


Seoul Kiwoom Heroes




Basics: Founded in 2008 (7th team) as Woori Heroes, changed to the current name in 2019. No championships, two Korean Series appearances (2014, 2019)

The Hate Vibe:  The WooriSeoulNexenKiwoom Heroes. A team so poor that it has to change its name every three years or so, because the only way for the team to survive is to sell the naming rights to different corporations, squeezing its fans to buy new merch in the process. Will a team that sells its name also sell its best players? Of course it will—the team made numerous illegal trades where it received over $110 million in undisclosed cash considerations.

US Comparables:  Oakland A’s owned by an evil Billy Bean.

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: If you’re into a dome stadium, Heroes is your team. Gocheok Sky Dome is Korea’s only dome baseball stadium, which means it is the only stadium that comes with its own local rules on the balls that hit the ceiling. (If the ball is stuck in the ceiling without going into the foul territory, it is ruled as a ground rule double.)

Bonus Hate Point: Unlike most KBO teams that operate as a division of their corporate sponsors, Heroes are (mostly) owned by two individuals who sue each other constantly and (reportedly) loot the team’s funds to pay their lawyers. The majority owner is currently serving a prison sentence for embezzlement and breach of duty.


Seoul Doosan Bears



Basics: Founded in 1982 (co-1st team) as OB Bears, changed to the current name in 1999. Six championships (1982, 1995, 2001, 2015, 2016, 2019)

The Hate Vibe:  You are frontrunner. Your team wins – five appearances to the Korean Series in the last five years, with three championship. Your team is the biggest team in the biggest city playing at a historical Jamsil stadium that hosted the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Your bandwagon is driven around by the former US ambassador to South Korea who gives media interviews about how great your team is.

US Comparables: New York Yankees, not because the Bears splash money around like the Yankees, but because even those who have not watched a single baseball game in their lives sometimes wear a Yankees cap.

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: It does feel pretty special to say your team won the very first KBO championship in 1982. The team also has the highest proportion of women fans in the KBO, such that it is the only team with a team song with separate male/female vocal parts.

Bonus Hate Point: Despite their squeaky-clean image of being the “Korea’s Team,” Bears players have been implicated in some huge, messed-up crimes and scandals like drunk driving that killed a person or an awful break-up with a celebrity news anchor who later committed suicide. But the Bears take care of their own, as those players always are allowed back to play.


Daejeon Hanwha Eagles



Basics: Founded in 1986 (sixth team) as Binggrae Eagles, changed to the current name in 1993. One championship (1999)

The Hate Vibe: You love losing. You are a connoisseur of defeat, savoring every different variety of losing year after year after year. You came to love losing so much that an occasional win feels bitter and you can’t wait to lose again. You will sell off the superstar that your team miraculously landed so that you can crawl back to the comfort of losing. You simply accept it when the fans of other teams call your Eagle mascot “chicken.”

"I am five years old and I'm a member of the Junior Eagles Fan Club."
"Do you have a dream?"
"Eighth place for the Eagles." (source)

US Comparables: Seattle Mariners, pre-2015 Chicago Cubs

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: You would be hard-pressed to find a better fandom, which somehow keeps growing even as the team trudges through a losing season after a losing season. Also, your corporate sponsor’s original name was Korea Explosives Group, founded by a guy whose nickname was Dynamite Kim.

Bonus Hate Point:  The orange-grey team colors are goddamn hideous and you will never want to buy their merch no matter how much you love the team.


Busan Lotte Giants



Basics: Founded in 1982 (co-1st team, one of two teams whose name, city and corporate sponsor never changed since KBO’s founding). Two championships (1984, 1992).

The Hate Vibe:  You love losing, but not like the Eagles fans. Eagles fans smile and accept the suck; Giants fans are dickishly proud of their suck, implausibly claiming the losses are the grit that builds the fan culture. But everyone knows the vaunted Giants fan culture just a way to distract from having to actually watch the game.

US Comparables:  Philadalphia Phillies, pre-2004 Boston Red Sox

Sajik Stadium is as good a sports experience as any. (source)

Totally Normie Reason to Love This Team: In all seriousness, Giants’ fan culture is unparalleled. Giants are the first KBO team to have more than a million home game spectators for the season, and holds the top four positions in the all-time rank of attendance per season. If you are a fan of sports experience in general, the Sajik Stadium ought to be on your bucket list along with Camp Nou for FC Barcelona and Bryant-Denny Stadium for Alabama football.

Bonus Hate Point: If you are older than 14 and catch a foul ball in the Sajik Stadium, you can’t keep it. The entire stadium chant “Ah-ju-ra” (“give it to a child”) at you, demanding you hand over your precious foul ball to a nearby child. More likely, a parent will shove a small child at your face, demanding you hand over the ball. It may seem like a cute fan culture point, but how many foul balls have you caught in your life?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

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