Korean Baseball Wracked by Bribery Scandal

Professional baseball has grown rapidly in Korea over the past decade. While not on the level of the Japanese league, Korea probably has the 3rd most advanced professional baseball league outside of the United States. This is a great thing for baseball fans. Hopefully one day, Korean players will populate the ranks of MLB teams just like Japanese stars. However, there has been a setback,

Prosecutors say the two indicted pitchers, both with the LG Twins, owned by the sprawling LG conglomerate, accepted bribes for up to nearly $5,000 for issuing the first walk in a game.

LG has fired both players, one of whom was the team’s biggest winner last year, with 13 victories for a club that wound up near the bottom of the league. No one questioned his pitching prowess – especially since he racked up all those wins purportedly after having deliberately walked batters at the behest of the broker who took the bets.

The other player, the broker’s roommate, who won only four games in 2011, is accused of taking bribes with another team before the Twins acquired him.

The scandal involved betting on individual at-bats. Sports betting in Korea is incredibly vibrant, and bookies will allow you to place bets on the outcome of individual pitches or at-bats. This has led to bet-fixing by players in the league. One pitcher received $5,000 to issue a walk, which no-doubt satisfied someone’s bet somewhere in the country.

MLB at its infancy dealt with these sorts of scandals. I don’t know the specifics of Korean baseball, but I’d wager that you’ll see a lot of behavior like this in an environment where player salaries are small, especially compared to the overall popularity and business strength of the sport. Bribery and corruption scandals are no stranger to international sports – ask the major cricket leagues, or even FIFA – but we don’t see them pop up in baseball all that often.

The details of the Korean scandal are just developing. We don’t know yet how widespread the damage is, or if more serious bet fixing occurred beyond just intentionally walking a batter. Its hard to imagine a repeat of the Black Sox scandal, where a team conspired to throw the World Series, but I wouldn’t be shocked to hear about teams conspiring to throw individual games.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He lives and works in Washington, DC.