Prime-Minister-turned-baseball-president
Korea Baseball League Commissioner Chung Un-chan proposes the real World Series between the champion of east Asian countries of Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, and the winner of the Major League Baseball League World Series. Photo courtesy of KBO

KBO Commissioner proposes ‘real World Series’

As the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is still on hold due to the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) league has been in the limelight internationally after its launch in early May.

Although the games are played without spectators, overseas sports channels like ESPN are carrying KBO matches every day, and baseball fans avidly watch the 10-team league’s outings instead of the indefinitely grounded MLB.

At the center of the unexpected worldwide attention is KBO Commissioner Chung Un-chan, who got his Ph.D. degree at Princeton University and taught at Columbia University.

The KBO might be very lucky to have such a chief, who has a deep understanding not only on the Korean league but also on the MBL _ he has been crazy about baseball at both sides of the Pacific.

When I studied economics at Princeton in the 1970s, I watched around 100 MBL games a year. Hence, I could not finish my dissertation in four years, the scholarship period,” Chung said in a recent interview.

However, my affection with baseball greatly benefited me in an interview with a Columbia official. After talking about MLB longer than an hour, he seemed confident that I knew American culture enough to become a Columbia professor.”

Upon returning to South Korea, he became a professor at Seoul National University. After leading the prestigious college as president, Chung eventually became Prime Minister of South Korea in 2009.

Without regard to his academic and political success, Chung’s love affair with baseball continued with the KBO as he authored a book about baseball and even debuted as an honorary radio commentator of the “national pastime.”

Since taking charge of the KBO in 2017, he has tried to globalize the Korean league by proactively meeting with foreign baseball leaders, including MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Chung said that the KBO has prepared for globalization, which he believes partially explains why the Korean league gains popularity of international baseball fans right now.

But he added that the league still has a long way to go to.

The KBO will put forth great efforts to beef up networks with baseball leagues of such countries as the United States, Japan, and Taiwan,” the 73-year-old said.

Then, I think that the Korean baseball’s unique style, which is somewhere between the MLB’s big-ball power game and the small-ball style in Japan, would keep winning the hearts and minds of worldwide fans.”

The professor-turned-commissioner proposed to host the real World Series between the champion of east Asian countries, which include Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, and the winner of the MLB World Series.

Asked when people are able to visit the stadiums, Chung said that the KBO is in consultation with the government.

He thinks of raising attendance step by step, beginning with 25 percent, then moving up to 50 percent and eventually full capacity after the nation brings the virus under control.