Live sports are back -- just not in the United States. ESPN announced today they had reached an agreement to broadcast six Korean Baseball Organization games from South Korea per week once the KBO season begins on May 5. While the games are at crazy times, baseball is baseball. If you, like thousands of other sports-starved fans, are looking for a team to support in the only active sports league in the world, you've come to the right place.
Here's a rundown of the league and the teams that make it up, including all the important details needed to make the crucial decision of who you'll be investing emotional capital into as the season goes on.
Doosan Bears (Seoul)
Pros: Reigning champs, history of success, host a yearly fan event called "Mr. Doo Day"
The Bears are both the original champions of the KBO (winning the title in the inagural 1982 season) and its most recent, sweeping the Kiwoon Heroes in 2019. They've only missed the playoffs twice this past decade and won three total championships in that span. If you want a guarantee you won't be rooting for a losing team in 2020, the Bears are your best bet.
MLB Comparison: San Francisco Giants, but good in odd years too.
Hanwha Eagles (Daejon)
Pros: Had a great late-90s to early-2000s stretch where they were nicknamed the Dynamite Bats, lovable losers of the last 10 years
If you want to put your weight behind a franchise that has the odds stacked against them, the Eagles are your team. In 34 years of existence, they've only won a single championship in 1999 and made the playoffs once in the last 12 years. However, they can boast Ryu Hyun-Jin as an MLB alumni. After finishing ninth out of ten teams last season, their immediate future doesn't look bright, but you can reminisce with fellow longtime fans about the good ol' days of the Dynamite Bats.
On a personal note, my college roommate's twin brother won a dance contest at their stadium while studying abroad there, and any team with the sense of humor to reward his dance moves gets my support. Sorry, Connor.
MLB Comparison: Kansas City Royals
Kia Tigers (Gwangju)
Pros: Most titles in KBO history (11)
The Tigers were extraordinarily successful in the early days of the KBO, winning six championships in the first 10 years of the league's existence and have the most out of any franchise. This century hasn't been quite as kind with only two championships, but they have a long history of success and their star player, Yang Hyeon-Jong, won MVP in 2017 and carried the team to their 11th title. They could be primed for a bounceback year after going 62-80 last season.
MLB Comparison: New York Yankees but with more recent success
Kiwoom Heroes (Seoul)
Pros: Definitely the best name, still working towards first championship in franchise history two young exciting talents
The Heroes are currently the easy-to-root-for underdogs of the league, but that could change in short order. Founded in 2008, they've reached the Korean Series twice in the last six years but have yet to win their first title. Stacked with young talent like Shin Jae-young and Lee Jung-hoo (the 2016 and 2017 Rookies of the Year, respectively) the Heroes know what it takes to get to the precipce of a title. They just haven't climbed that final mountain yet, and there's few things in sports more enjoyable to root for than the first taste of championship success.
MLB Comparison: 2019 Washington Nationals
KT Wiz (Suwon)
Pros: Youngest franchise in the league, seem to be on the up-and-up
The Wiz have the honor of being the youngest franchise in KBO history, only coming into existence before the 2015 season began. As such, they don't have a lot of success to date. But they did reach .500 for the first time in 2019, going 71-71, and will be looking for their first-ever playoff appearance in 2020. As I previously stated, it's fun to root for a first, and with the youth of the franchise, expectations aren't really a thing. If you want to sit back and enjoy without the burden of potential disappointment, the Wiz are for you.
MLB Comparison: Tampa Bay Rays
LG Twins (Seoul)
Pros: Large fan base, old franchise with only two titles, Bears rivals
The Twins are one of the most popular franchises in the league as one of the founding teams, so you'll have plenty of fans to talk with should you throw your lot in with them. Despite their history and support, they only have two titles, but made the playoffs four times in the last seven years and were ousted by the Heroes in the semifinals last season. A perennially solid team who should be in the postseason mix in 2020.
MLB Comparison: Cleveland Indians
Lotte Giants (Busan)
Pros: Most popular franchise in the league
As popular as the Twins are, they don't hold a candle to the Giants. Based out of Busan, the Giants hold the KBO's all-time home attendance record and drew an average of over one million fans for four straight years from 2008-2011, the first time any KBO franchise had achieved that feat. But they're also not particularly good with only one playoff appearance since 2013 and are coming off a 2019 season where they finished dead last with a 48-93 record. Their last championship came in 1992. Irrational support behind a historically average franchise should appeal to a lot of us, though.
MLB Comparison: New York Mets
NC Dinos (Changwon)
Pros: Young franchise but only missed the playoffs twice in seven years of existence
The Dinos entered the KBO in 2013 and were almost immediately contenders, a rarity in any sport. After a tough first year, the Dinos made the playoffs in five of the next six seasons, including a Korean Series appearance in 2016. They went 73-70 last season and lost in the Wild Card round after missing the postseason entirely in 2018, and are looking forward to building off that in pursuit of the franchise's first 'chip.
MLB Comparison: Seattle Mariners
Samsung Lions (Daegu)
Pros: Founding franchise with a recent dynastic run of four straight championships
One of the KBO's original franchises, the Lions struggled early on with only two championships in their first 20 years of existence before turning it up at the turn of the century; they've won five titles in the last 15 years, including four straight from 2011-2014. The Lions are in a rebuilding stage right now, though, as they enter 2020 in the midst of a four-year playoff drought and finished 8th in the 2019 standings.
MLB Comparison: St. Louis Cardinals
SK Wyverns (Incheon)
Pros: Consistently competitive, sweet name
Even if the Heroes have an excellent claim to the best team name, the Wyverns are the coolest. Besides that, they've been consistently competitive after entering the KBO in 2001. They went to four straight Korean Series from 2007-2010, winning three of them. The Wyverns double as one of the best teams in the KBO right now; they won the 2018 title and have finished second in the league two straight years. You can expect the Wyverns to be in championship contention again after an early playoff ousting last season at the hands of the Heroes.
MLB Comparison: Houston Astros minus the trash cans.