Remember back in early May when the KBO was the only game in town? The sports world was shut down globally when Korea’s top professional baseball league began its season on May 5, six weeks after its scheduled opening day.
For a little while, the only live sport going was Korean baseball. Some former major-leaguers continuing their careers in the KBO were under the spotlight back in the states.
Here, the notable names were former Phillies Aaron Altherr, Ben Lively, David Buchanan and Hyun-Soo Kim.
The KBO season ended this week with Altherr’s team, the NC Dinos, winning the championship after going 83-55-6 in the regular season to finish in first place.
Altherr was a key figure for them all season, hitting .278 with an .893 OPS in 546 plate appearances and ranking third on the team with 31 homers and 108 RBI.
His three-run homer in Game 1 of the series propelled the Dinos to a win.
Altherr, hitting at the bottom of the order for most of the series, went 7 for 21 in the six games with a homer, a double, five RBI and three runs scored.
It was the first KBO title for the Dinos, established in 2011. They are the KBO’s second-youngest active team.
Altherr was one of three former major-leaguers on the Dinos’ roster. The others were former Orioles pitcher Mike Wright and reliever Drew Rucinski, who pitched for three teams from 2014-18. Rucinski was the Dinos’ top starting pitcher this season, posting a 3.05 ERA in 183 innings.
Altherr was involved in a bit of controversy early in the series, refusing to wear a mask as mandated in a postgame awards ceremony/press conference after Game 1. He later apologized.
"He recognizes the gravity of the situation," a team official told the Yonhap News Agency. "He said he was sorry to have caused trouble, and said he will now respect and follow health protocols."
Altherr signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with a $200,000 signing bonus to play for the Dinos this season after six years in MLB with the Phillies, Giants and Mets. As recently as 2017, he was in the Phillies’ long-term plans. He hit .272 with 19 homers, 65 RBI and an .856 OPS that season to earn a starting job in 2018. That 2018 season was disastrous for Altherr, who began 3 for 39 and was optioned to Triple A in late July when he was still hitting .171.
Perhaps Altherr’s successful stint in South Korea will result in a big-league opportunity in 2021. He’s still just 29 years old. If not, he seems to be in a comfortable situation across the globe.