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Seeking return to KBO, ex-MLB player Kang Jung-ho back in S. Korea

All News 19:25 June 05, 2020

INCHEON, June 5 (Yonhap) -- Former major leaguer Kang Jung-ho, eyeing a return to the South Korean league under the cloud of multiple drunken driving cases, arrived back from the United States on Friday.

Kang left Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, at about 7 p.m. Friday. Following the requirement for all international arrivals during the coronavirus pandemic, Kang will enter a two-week quarantine.

Kang didn't answer any questions from the media. Kang's Seoul-based agency, Leeco Sports Agency, said earlier this week that following the quarantine period, Kang will hold a press conference to discuss his future in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

South Korean baseball player Kang Jung-ho carries his luggage at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, just west of Seoul, after arriving from the United States on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

Kang is hoping to be reunited with the Kiwoom Heroes, the last KBO team he played for before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015. Because Kang wasn't a free agent then and went through the posting system to land his first big league deal, the Heroes still own rights to Kang and must first activate him from the "voluntarily retired" list before he can play in the KBO again.

Based on Kang's three drunken driving cases from 2009, 2011 and 2016, the KBO handed down a one-year suspension on the infielder on May 25. The ban will take effect once Kang signs a KBO deal.

The KBO came under fire in the court of public opinion for what critics viewed as a lenient penalty and for passing the buck to the Heroes, who now have the ultimate say on whether Kang can continue his career.

The Heroes have said they'll only begin discussing their possible future with Kang after the player speaks to the media.

Once Kang comes off the voluntarily retired list, the Heroes can either sign him or trade him.

Kang received a suspended jail term in 2017 for driving into a guardrail in Seoul while under the influence, and then fleeing the scene, in December 2016. That third case effectively ended Kang's once-promising big league career.

The former KBO All-Star shortstop missed the entire 2017 season because he was unable to obtain his U.S. work permit. He appeared in only three games in 2018.

Kang's four-year deal with the Pirates expired in 2018, but the team gave him a second chance by handing him a new one-year deal for the 2019 season.

South Korean baseball player Kang Jung-ho carries his luggage at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, just west of Seoul, after arriving back from the United States on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

Kang led the majors with seven home runs in spring training in 2019, but in the regular season he stumbled to a .169/.222./.395 line in 65 games with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs. The Pirates released him on Aug. 4.

Kang briefly worked out with the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A team, but no new deal came out of it.

Kang had been among the premier sluggers in the KBO. In his last season before moving to the majors, Kang established a new KBO record for most home runs in a season by a shortstop with 40.

In 2015, Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, thanks to a .287/.355/.461 line, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games.

Then in 2016, Kang posted a .513 slugging percentage while setting career highs with 21 home runs and 62 RBIs in 103 games. But following the DUI arrest in December that year, Kang never duplicated that level of production.


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