I'm a bit of a sports stat geek and the KBO is a recent discovery, for a lot of us. I've been looking at old stats and results and discovering a lot about this league's history. I find historical stats to be absolutely fascinating. Times change but the game keeps getting played. It's always interesting to see what sports geeks in times past looked at in their day.
I'm just going to record some interesting finds and thoughts here. Hopefully, this will become a semi-regular column.
Note: You may find accurate journalistic reports about all this stuff, but I want this column to be more to track personal discoveries, which is always very fun.
The First Superpower: Haitai Tigers
The Korean Series is KBO's championship series. And it seems that the Tigers franchise, owned by snack company Haitai initially, pretty much ruled this series and the league in the 80's. They won 4 straight, from 86 to 89, and 9 championships until they stopped winning in 97.
Gentleman by the name of Kim Eung-yong managed this team from 1983 to 2000. That's a staggering 17 years.
It seems that this Tigers team won a lot through good baseball rather than forming a super team. The Tigers came in first in the regular season standings only once during this streak, in 1988 when they won 68 games to Binggurae Eagles' 62 games.
Sun Dong-yul is known these days as the recent Samsung Lions manager with the portly frame and his permanent shocked facial expression. But this man was a beast of other worldly proportions on the mound during his prime as the Tigers' ace.
How does a pitcher go 24-6 and 0.99 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP? These aren't video game stats, Sun did this in 86 as a 23 year old. This makes Ryu Hyun-jin's recent years' stats look pretty tame. He had more seasons like this but this season was his best.
86 was Haitai's first championship year. An interesting thing was, this beast of a pitcher didn't even grab a win in the Korean Series for this year. He started game 1 and game 4 but both went into extras and the relievers were rewarded with the dubs. An interesting thing happened in game 6, the game the Tigers clinched. Sun was put on the mound to protect a Tigers lead in the 6th and came through with a save to give the Tigers' franchise the first of what would be 10 championships.
Judging by Sun's 132 careers saves, it looks like he was used as a closer a lot. This number is almost as much as his career 146 wins. Most of these saves come at then later years of his career and it seems he was a reliever by then.
Frustration: OB Bears, Samsung Lions
Samsung Lions (with Lotte Giants the only teams to keep both sponsor companies and team names intact for as long as the KBO has been around) had a mini-dynasty run in the 2000's winning 3 championships. But they, along with the Bears franchise, were probably frustrated as hell trying to win a few times in the KBO's first decade.
Both flirted with greatness. Bears won the first ever Korean Series in 82 beating the Lions in 4 straight after losing and tying the first 2 games. And Samsung "won" the Korean Series in 85 without even playing a series. The Lions were given the championship because they finished 18.5 games ahead of the Bears, and enacting some revenge against the team that beat the Lions in the first KS. The Lions were considered so good that the rest of the teams in the KBO were referred to as half into the minor leagues that year. (1군 for Samsung and 1.5군 for the rest of the teams) (in Korean pro ball, 1군 means major league, and 2군 is minor league).
Frustration set in for Samsung right after their dominant 85 season as they lost ALL of their Korean Series appearances after until their championship year in 2002. They lost 5 times after 1985 including the Korean Series right before their 2002 win. In total, the Lions played in 13 Korean Series' and won 4.. and only 3 if you do not count their freebee in 85. This puts Samsung's 2010 Korean Series loss in a whole new perspective.
The Bears' franchise went through similar frustrations not even playing in a Series after winning the first ever until 1995. They won again in 2001. But this team's long long long championship drought is absolutely nothing new.