Korean Baseball Star Catches Heat Following Racist Remarks Towards American Pitcher
One of Korea's top baseball players is embroiled in controversy for remarks made Monday about Lotte's African-American ace starting pitcher, Shane Youman. Korean netizens have reacted harshly against Hanwha's star Kim Tae-kyun for what are being called racist comments.
BUSAN, South Korea -- South Korea national baseball team member and Hanwha Eagles first baseman Kim Tae-kyun is facing criticism from fans for making what are being called racist remarks on a radio show Monday about Busan's Lotte Giants' African-American ace, Shane Youman.
During an appearance on Radio Ball, a Naver Internet baseball radio broadcast, the 31-year-old slugger was asked about the difficulties in facing Youman, who is considered the toughest pitcher in the league.
“The Lotte Giants’ Youman is the most difficult player to play against,” Kim replied. “His face is too black, so it is hard to bat because his white teeth and the ball confuses me when he smiles on the mound. So, I suffered a lot."
He then went on to say, “There’s no particularly difficult pitcher, but when I play against Youman, I screw up because of his white teeth.”
Both the Hanwha organization and Kim have separately offered apologies to Youman over the incident, and there’s been no word on whether Kim will face any repercussions from the team or the league over the comments.
Kim's remarks have garnered heated debate on Korean baseball forums with many denouncing the star player.
However, the issue has so far made fewer waves than recent scandals including Nexen’s Kim Min-woo receiving a 30-game suspension and a 10-million-won fine for his involvement in a drunk driving hit-and-run incident, and LG’s relief pitcher Im Chan-gyu, who splashed Jeong In-young, a female announcer for KBS N Sports, with water during a post-game interview last month, both of which received heavy media attention.
“If these words truly came out of Kim's mouth, it's very sad to hear that in 2013," said Dan Kurtz, founder of MyKBO.net, a website dedicated to introducing English-speaking fans to Korean baseball. "Foreigners in the KBO are still not given the same respect as their Korean counterparts.”
Kurtz, who has been covering the league for nearly ten years, is puzzled why there hasn’t been more media coverage of the incident, which was knocked off the front page of the Naver baseball site within a matter of hours. The story was also noticeably absent from the official KBO site.
“Why does a water celebration involving the LG Twins and a female reporter get more attention than remarks like this or even a DUI hit and run involving a Nexen player?” he said.
Kim Tae-kyun, who himself is no stranger to playing in a foreign country, spent an injury plagued 20-month career in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League which ended last year—ironically with the Chiba Lotte Marines, owned by the South Korean-Japanese Lotte conglomerate which also controls the Giants.
Youman's former teammate at Lotte and fellow American Ryan Sadowski, told Haps he hopes Kim learns from his mistake.
"Sixty years ago, Korea was a homogeneous society that has advanced faster than any other place in the world in history. It has taken Americans nearly 300 years to reach a level of racial equality. I challenge Kim Tae-kyun to use this as an opportunity to educate the Korea population about racial equality so that Korea can continue to advance as quickly as it has in the past."
Imported non-Korean players have been allowed in the KBO since 1998, with many African Americans, including Tyrone Woods, the league's first foreign MVP, enjoying much success and admiration from fans and players alike.
Jasper Johnson, an African-American player in the Korean pro basketball league said that during his time playing in Korea, racism has never been an issue.
"I have never (had any) experience of any discrimination or negative vibes in Korea. Maybe it's a baseball thing. KBL players are pretty welcoming and are good people," said Johnson, who spent the majority of his three-year Korean basketball career with the KT Sonic Boom.
The response of Lotte fans to Kim's remarks about Youman will be readily gaged this weekend as the Giants play host to Kim and the Eagles in Busan for a three-game series at Sajik stadium.
Korean translation by Junnie Ahn
Main image from Sports Chosun.
Read more from Jeff Liebsch