Baseball craze in 1970s back in spotlight
In the 1970s, high school baseball enjoyed an unprecedented boom and tens of thousands of people flocked to the now demolished Dongdaemun Baseball Stadium in Seoul whenever the four major championships were held there.
The four tournaments are the Blue Dragon, the Golden Lion, the President’s Cup and the Grand Phoenix hosted by newspaper companies Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Hankook Ilbo, respectively.
The nation threw itself into a baseball craze during those championships.
People who were unable to make the trip to the stadium watched or listened to the games on TV or radio as they were aired or broadcast nationally.
The baseball stadium was crowded with the students and alumni of the two high schools that played for the championship trophy. “It was like the largest alumni gathering,” said Jeon Yong-bae, a professor at Dankook University College of Sports Science and a baseball columnist. “The baseball championships were much more than baseball games. Like it or not, those players were regarded as representatives of their cities, rather than of their schools, because members of the entire community crossed their fingers for the victory of their local school.” The winners received a hero’s welcome once they returned to their home city. Gigantic banners celebrating their win popped up everywhere in their city. City authorities prepared a car parade for the young heroes to praise their contribution to “raise the profile of their home city.”
The popularity of the high school baseball tournaments noticeably declined in the 1980s after the 1982 launch of the Korea Baseball Organization League. Memories of the baseball boom in the 1970s have gradually faded with the 2008 shutdown and razing of Dong- daemun Baseball Stadium to make way for Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
The baseball craze of the 1970s, though, is back in the spotlight as several KBO rookies who joined the league after graduating from high school have drawn media attention this season.
Among others, Nexen Heroes high school graduate rookie Lee Jeong-hoo is one of the strongest candidates to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Samsung Lions outfielder Kim Seong-yoon is another rookie fresh out of high school who received media attention for his relatively solid performance despite his physical disadvantage of being the shortest player in the KBO League. He is one of the league’s strongest outfielders.
Their strong presence in the KBO League caused baseball fans and clubs to take a deeper interest in the high school games.
The baseball craze of the 1970s had a lasting impact on Korean baseball culture, according to Jeon. “The success of the KBO League didn’t come overnight,” he said. “The baseball fervor of the 1970s sowed the seeds for the KBO boom after the professional baseball league was created.”
The number of spectators at ballparks has increased every year and the KBO games attracted over 8 million baseball fans to stadiums last year.
Although amateur baseball games are not as popular as they were in the past, Jeon said it has shaped Korean baseball culture.
To rise to stardom in the KBO League, he said a player needs to be a graduate of a local high school. “Which high school did you go to? This matters when determining whether he can become what baseball analysts here call a franchise star,” he said. A franchise star refers to a symbolic star player representing a baseball club. “Few ask which university the player went to because college means nothing to them. If you didn’t attend a high school in the home city of the baseball club you are playing for, it’s going to be tough for you to be a franchise star,” he said.
Whimoon High School baseball players celebrate their win in the Grand Phoenix baseball championship final game against the Gunsan Commercial High School at Suwon KT Wiz Park in Gyeonggi Province on Aug. 12, 2016.