Some Notes on Asian Players in the U.S. and Vice Versa
Kang made a play on Bryce Harper today that is probably acceptable in South Korea’s KBO, but that doesn’t fly in MLB, to say the least. Harper hit a ball into the right field corner and legged it out for a triple. The relay throw was well off line and threatened to disappear somewhere up the left-field foul grounds, and Kang faked a tag on Harper, forcing Harper to slide and thus likely preventing Harper from scoring on the play.
The TV announcer’s comments pretty much said it all: [I’m paraphrasing] “You don’t make that play in MLB, or anywhere in [American] baseball because you might cause the base runner to hurt himself thinking he has to slide at the last minute.” In fact, that’s exactly what happened. Harper hurt his thumb on the play, the same thumb he had operated on in 2014. He stayed in long enough to score the run later in the half-inning, but then came out for a defensive replacement.
The next time Kang came up to bat, the Nationals pitcher threw a pitch well behind him and was promptly ejected. The fans were then treated to classic baseball “brawl” with players pouring out of the dugouts and a lot of pushing and shoving and bear-hugs and not many, if any, punches thrown.
It’s worth noting that Kang was seriously injured last year on a take-out slide at second base, a play no less dangerous and probably much more dangerous than Kang’s fake tag. After the game, Kang said he was simply trying to prevent Harper from scoring on the play.
In short, absent playing in the U.S. from the start of your professional career or someone telling you not to do it, there is no way for an Asian player to know what dangerous plays are permissible under the MLB “Code” and which ones are not. That said, I will not be surprised if a Nationals’ pitcher succeeds in plunking Kang next season in the first series the two teams play against each other, particularly if Harper’s injury impacts his play-off performance. It’s well recognized in MLB that you protect (and take vengeance on behalf of) your teammates.
As for Kim, he was in the news for slugging a two-run homer that proved to the difference in a 2-1 Orioles’ victory.
Kim has become a remarkably successful platoon player for the O’s. He is a dreadful 0-for-18 against left-handed pitchers this season, but has an on-base percentage just shy of .400 against righties. The O’s have been remarkably successful at making sure Kim does not bat against lefties while still getting him more than 300 plate appearances against righties.
This is a big advantage Asian players playing in MLB have compared to former MLB players playing in the top Asian leagues. Given the relative salary structures of the different leagues, Asian players can have success in MLB as relievers or platoon players and still make as much or more money than they can make in Asia.
Kim got a two-year $7 million contract from the Orioles, which is the same amount he’d have received over four years to remain in South Korea’s KBO. He probably could have made the same money in two years playing in Japan’s NPB.
On the other hand, MLB platoon players going to Asia are at a distinct disadvantage because they are being paid to play every day in Asia. If they are good enough or lucky enough, they can hit enough against lefties to keep them in the line-up so they can chew up right-handed pitchers. Often, however, they have just as much trouble with Asian lefties as they did with port-siders States-side, and their Asian baseball careers are short-lived.