Base­ball craze in 1970s back in spot­light

The Korea Times - - SPORTS - By Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@ktimes.com

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.

Korea Times photo file

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.

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