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KBO salary king still smaller than players in U.S. and Japan

All Headlines 16:15 February 25, 2016

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- When the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), South Korea's top professional baseball league, started in 1982, pitcher Park Chul-soon and infielder Kim Jae-bak were the highest paid players, receiving annual salaries of 24 million won (US$19,400).

Considering that the popular Chinese dish that was localized in Korea, jajangmyeon -- noodles served with black bean sauce -- cost only 500 won at the time, their earnings were jaw-dropping for the average office worker.

But when it comes to comparisons with top Major League Baseball (MLB) players in the United States or those in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, Park and Kim would be on the bottom of the list.

In 1982, Philadelphia Phillies' legendary third baseman Mike Schmidt received a salary of US$1.5 million, equivalent to 1.8 billion won at the current exchange rate and more than 75 times higher than what Park and Kim received. In the same year, the highest paid player in Japan was Seibu Lions' outfielder Koji Akiyama who made 65 million yen ($577,000) a year.

After 24 years, the salary gap between the KBO and the MLB is still large. But at least South Korea's top-tier baseball league is slowly chasing Japan down in terms of highest salary pay.

The KBO saw a big leap in payrolls after the league adopted the free agency system in 2000. In 2005, former Hyundai Unicorns slugger Shim Jung-soo received 750 million won a year after signing with the Samsung Lions as a free agent. But still, in the same year, New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was getting US$26 million in the MLB, 43 times larger than Shim, and in the NPB, closer Kazuhiro Sasaki was making 650 million yen a year, 9.5 times higher than Shim.

This year, the KBO's top moneymaker is the Hanwha Eagles' power hitter Kim Tae-gyun who pockets 1.6 billion won a year. In the MLB, Arizona Diamondbacks' Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Zach Greinke makes US$34 million in salary, while Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda receives 600 million yen in the NPB.

As of last year, Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) is triple that of South Korea's. Since Kuroda's 2016 salary is quadruple that of Kim's, the gap between the KBO and the NPB -- in terms of highest salary -- is becoming similar to that of the country's market size.

However, the gap between the KBO and the MLB is still too big to span. As of 2015, the U.S. GDP is 13 times larger than South Korea, but the highest-paid MLB player, Greinke, is paid 26 times larger than Kim.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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