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Korean baseball: Could scandal unseat the country's most lucrative sport?

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“This is the first time we’ve had such a scandal in Korea,” says Michael Park, who handles liaison between the Korea Baseball Organization and major league baseball in the US.  “Probably it will hurt, but we hope the investigating will be over when the season begins.”

The KBO has suspended both of them pending the final verdicts but realistically sees no chance of acquittals. Eventually they will almost certainly be banned  from playing professionally in Korea.

“I really want them to play,” says Mr. Park, “but for the benefit of the game, they have to be ineligible for life.”

Protecting the rise of baseball

The severity of the penalties reflects the need to protect the integrity of a sport that Royster, the former Lotte Giants manager, sees as rising rapidly in quality as well as popularity.

“Baseball is a big part of the Korean society and the international growth of the nation,” says Royster. “I am proud of the fact that I was the first foreign manager in Korea.  I will be a follower of KBO for the rest of my life.”

On the basis of his years with the Lotte Giants, owned by the same far-reaching empire that owns the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League, Royster is “not surprised to see that baseball has taken over as the No. 1 sport in Korea.” The next step “is getting new stadiums,” he says, to replace the somewhat decrepit structures where most of the games are played.

No, “the teams in KBO don't measure up to pro teams in America” yet says Royster, who played 16 years in the major leagues, including 10 with the Atlanta Braves, and coached and managed for several years for the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers. He estimates that play is on the same level as on double-A or single-A minor league affiliates of major league teams.

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