The sigh was deafening when Korean baseball team knelt before Taiwan, a relative underdog of Asian baseball, in Premier 12. The score at 0-7 made the sentiment even more abject. Some of the many historic moments of Korean baseball – gold in 2008 Beijing Olympic games, second place in 2009 World Baseball Classic, and championship title of 2015 Premier 12 – instantly flickered across my head. It was not that long ago. The memories of victory are still fresh; what happened to Korean baseball?
Some say their performance has dipped. But when compared with a few years back, the performance has not changed much. The current national team consists of some of the players who’ve already experienced the Major League Baseball and others from local league on a par with their foreign-based peers in skills. In fact, Team Korea was not exactly a top dog when it was winning the world titles. There was a clear gap with world-class powerhouse teams. As far as performance was concerned, Korea did not have a shot at winning.
Experts say that it is four or five years ago when Team Korea began to lose their own color. The number of teams grew, and their salaries soared, and the need to diversify genres was gradually dismissed. Others blame the blind pursuit to introduce American training programs in Korea. There are more youth aspiring to be pitchers, which caused imbalance, making it difficult to establish different genres. The reasons must be various, but it all comes down to lack of effort to build genres.
The popularity of Korean baseball is pegged to the performance of international events. When the number of audience surpassed the mark of eight million, the national team was flying colors on global stages such as World Baseball Classic, Olympics, and Premier 12. To make it worse, a draft-dodging scandal added to the waning fate of Korean baseball last year. The threshold of eight million collapsed this year alone. The fall is steep.
Premier 12 is entering the homestretch. Now is the time to think again. What color does Korean baseball have to pursue? The future of Korean baseball, the records of this tournament, and the luck for Tokyo Olympic games all hinge upon the answer to this question. Let’s put the bat down and think for a while.