This year, September 7 marks the 12th anniversary of the deaths of slugger Jang Hyo-jo (張孝祚-1956-2011) and September 14 marks the 12th anniversary of iron-armed Choi Dong-won (崔東原-1958-2011). Last year, Choi Dong-won was ranked second and Jang Hyo-jo sixth on the list of “40 Baseball Legends” selected for the 40th anniversary of the KBO league. It’s hard to describe the history of Korean baseball without mentioning the two men who passed away a week apart.
Korean professional baseball has surpassed 6 million spectators this year. However, the quality of the game is not as good as the quantity. That’s why Jang Hyo-jo and Choi Dong-won still resonate with Korean baseball. They were perfectionists. They hated to show weakness or lose, even though it made them sick to their stomachs. When they stepped on the field, they shot laser beams from their eyes. The idea of smiling on the field today was unthinkable.
Laser beams in the eyes of the two players
Choi Dong-won touched his rosin bag, socks, gold-rimmed glasses, and hat before he threw the ball, as if it were a ritual. Choi’s pitching was cool and exhilarating as he swung his left arm and left foot dynamically, and Jang Hyo-jo, who glared at the pitcher and hit a couple of hits here and there, was always admirable.
The two had a great battle of chi. A blogger has an article from Sports Donga dated October 18, 1978. Jang Hyo-jo, then a fourth-year student at Hanyang University, sniped at Choi Dong-won. “Choi Dong-won is an outstanding pitcher in terms of qualities. Many batters are afraid to face him because they are tricked. They try to use these pitches against me, but it doesn’t work. To borrow a technical term, they try to hit me with a changeup, but it doesn’t work against me. This was the case at the 33rd National Collegiate Baseball Tournament. Choi Dong-won was so scared of me that he sent me to the plate four times, striking out three times and allowing one hit. Can you text in front of a monk?”
Choi Dong-won, a sophomore at Yonsei, fired back. “In my case, it’s not just Hyo-jo, but any well-known hitter is easy to face. It’s obvious that Hyojo is an excellent hitter who can hit well and is quick. But he also has many weaknesses. In the 14 times he faced me, he hit three times, walked six times, and didn’t get any hits. It’s like a soccer player taking a lot of shots that don’t go in. Hyojo has no defense against low pitches. He can’t do anything about knee-high strikes and balls that float toward his body.”
The two turned pro a year later than most, playing for the Korean national team in the 1982 World Baseball Championship. While Choi had a respectable .241 career batting average, Jang’s .386 was on the weak side.
Hyo-jo Jang “If He Doesn’t Hit, I’ll Ball” Jang
Jang Hyo-jo became a star as a sophomore at Daegu Sang High School in 1973, leading the team to three national titles and sweeping major tournament batting awards, earning him the nickname “Hit Maker. He continued to shine at Hanyang University. In 1976, he won the batting title at the Backhoe Tournament with a cartoonish .714 batting average. On July 25, 1978, he hit a grand slam over the left field fence in the seventh inning of the third game of the Korea-U.S. College Baseball Tournament, a rare push home run at the time. He hit quite a few home runs during his college career when aluminum bats were used.
Jang Hyo-jo was also known for his grueling workouts. As a short player in Daegu, he was forced to play second base despite being a left-handed hitter, but this only made him work harder at hitting. In high school, everyone loved to take a day off when it rained, but when the rain stopped, he urged his juniors to “drain the water from the field and train.” In the pros, I would spend four hours in the locker room practicing my swing in my underwear, and once I stepped into the batting box, I would swing 100 times without stopping. At home, he kept dozens of bats on display and cared for them like a warrior.
Through rigorous practice, his quickness and power improved. His teammate, former Hanyang University coach Kim Han-geun, said, “He surprised everyone when he lifted a bench press of 140 kilograms.” He was so strong that he even took the mound as a pitcher at Hanyang University. As he developed strong muscular endurance, his swing speed was lightning fast, and his delivery was so precise that it was said, “If Jang Hyo-jo doesn’t hit, it’s a ball.” His feet were fast enough to run the 100 meters in 11.3 seconds.
In his 10-year professional career, Jang batted .331 with 3050 hits and 1009 RBIs. However, earlier this year, the KBO revised Jang’s batting average to 0.330, stating, “A double hit by Jang Hyo-jo against Cheongbo on July 31, 1985, is not recognized as a hit because the runner in front of him was out on appeal because he did not step on the base path.” Ki Sung-hoo has been ahead of Jang Hyo-jo since last year with a 0.340 batting average, but he is still far from retirement, so it will be interesting to see if he can break Jang’s record. Jang won four batting titles (1983, 1985-1987), one MVP (1987), the most hits (1983), the highest slugging percentage (1983, 1987, 1991), and five Golden Gloves (1983-1987). It’s a phenomenal record.
At the end of his career, in 1991, he finished a disappointing second in batting at .347. He was battling for the batting title with fellow high school junior Lee Jung-hoon Bingre. He had a habit of sleeping on two cans of beer from his unemployed baseball days, but when he competed with Lee, he stopped drinking and used that time to practice batting. He was 35 years old at the time.
Jang Hyo-jo was so focused on winning that he called people who didn’t like him “arrogant.” In 1983, his first year as a professional, he won the batting title with a .369 average and hit 18 home runs. However, he was labeled a “used rookie who didn’t look like a rookie,” and the once-in-a-lifetime title of Rookie of the Year went to Park Jong-hoon. The outcome might have been different if he had smiled and said hello to the officials.
Jang Hyo-jo was not as good on defense as he was on offense. In the top of the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1984 Korean Series, with Samsung leading Lotte 4 to 1, he was playing right field when he mistook a fly ball hit by Lotte’s Han Moon-yeon and rushed forward. However, the ball sailed far behind her for a triple, and a surprised Jang Hyo-jo did a cheerful pose to catch the ball, which ended up scoring a run and turning the tide of the game. The moment is known as the “Manse Incident” and Jang Hyo-jo has been kicking himself for a long time.
Choi Dong-won’s curveball, one of the KBO’s two greats
Meanwhile, Choi Dong-won first came to prominence on September 17, 1975, when he was a sophomore at Gyeongnam High School, when he defeated powerhouse Kyungpook National University in a no-hitter at the Outstanding High School Invitational Tournament, and made a splash by purchasing the then-unfamiliar “500,000 won shoulder insurance” policy. In his senior year, he struck out 20 in the winner’s bracket and 12 in the final against Gunsan Sangho at Cheongnyonggi. Former Kia Tigers manager Kim Sung-han, who was a sophomore at Gunsan Sango at the time, recalled, “It was the fastest ball I had ever seen in my life, and the curveball was like a waterfall falling from the sky.”
Choi Dong-won’s father, Choi Yun-sik, a former merchant marine, studied Japanese baseball and applied it to his son. He trained him himself and acted as his manager. Choi and his father were inseparable. In addition to running 10 kilometers every day on the streets of Busan, Choi always ran a few kilometers after games. In the evenings, he would practice pitching on the practice field at his home in Gojeong-dong, Busan. It was then that he perfected his knife-edge delivery, throwing the ball where he wanted with a difference of one or two pitches.
Choi, who chose Yonsei University over Korea University, was at the peak of his powers. He swept various adult tournaments. However, he was so confident in his pitches that he often hit big home runs at home and abroad while throwing the same pitches over and over again. Still, the ball he threw at Yonsei was the most powerful.
After struggling in his first year in a Lotte uniform in 1983, he made a name for himself by winning 27 games in 1984. During Game 7 of the Korean Series against Samsung that year, he single-handedly took the team to the championship with a 4-1 victory. Fans were stunned, and it became one of the most memorable games in Korean baseball history. In an interview at the time, Choi Dong-won said, “I was so exhausted that I couldn’t get up in the morning. When I was told that I had to start that game again, I held onto my father and cried, but he encouraged me to play with the intention of dying on the mound. When I got home after the game, my nose was bleeding,” he said. The second finger of his right hand was covered in white bondage. The nail, which had been cut off due to constant fighting, was temporarily glued back on. He went on to win 20 games in 1985 and 19 games in 1986. In his eight-year professional career, he finished with a record of 103 wins, 74 losses, 26 saves, and a 2.46 ERA.
Former Lotte manager Kim Yong-hee, a three-year senior at Gyeongnam High School, recalled, “Dong-won, who was usually quiet and polite, would turn charismatic and overwhelm the batters once he got on the mound.” “The batters were encouraged by that,” he said. Choi’s main weapon was a hard-hitting fastball that reached 155 kilometers per hour and a curveball that dropped like a waterfall. Choi’s curveball, along with Sun Dong-yeol’s slider, are known as the two most powerful pitches in the KBO. Sometimes, Choi would throw an arirang ball that reached around 50 kilometers per hour to make batters feel like they were being played. It was a strategy to gain the upper hand in the psychological battle. “You dare to hit my ball, just hit this Arirang ball,” he said.
He showed off his iron arm by throwing more than 200 innings every season from 1983 to 1987. His ability to pitch nine innings in a row, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, was a strength that rival Sun Dong-yeol envied the most. On May 16, 1987, Lotte’s Choi Dong-won and Haetae’s Seon Dong-yeol pitched 15 innings each in a 2-2 draw that became the subject of the movie The Perfect Game. At the time, Choi threw 209 pitches and Seon 235. The after-effects were so severe that Seon had to rest until the end of May, but Choi Dong-won pitched three days apart in his next games, all of which were complete games. The current system of changing pitchers after 100 pitches must have been very unfamiliar to him.
Deep wounds for two legends
Jang Hyo-jo and Choi Dong-won were deeply scarred in 1988. Choi Dong-won of Lotte was traded to Samsung in November of that year for Kim Si-jin. Jang Hyo-jo switched jerseys with Lotte’s Kim Yong-chul a month later. It was a big shock. Choi went into hiatus after the trade and only just returned. In 1990, he was released by Samsung because he had a 5.28 ERA and could no longer throw his fastball. Jang Hyo-jo recovered from his shock, but his destructive power diminished. His batting average dropped into the double digits and he retired after the 1992 season. Both left the field in humble fashion, with no farewell ceremony. They were an eyesore to their clubs. Whether it was because of their early antagonism in organizing the Professional Baseball Players Association or their conflicted salary negotiations with their clubs.
Retired Hyo-jo Jang was a hitting coach for Lotte for six years. He also spent a year coaching a minor league team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. He returned to Samsung as a secondary hitting coach in 2000, but quit after a year. Samsung let Jang go when they hired Kim Eung-ryong from Haetae. Fans wanted Jang Hyo-jo to coach at Samsung, but Samsung turned him down. Even now, Samsung doesn’t call any of its former legends like Kim Si-jin, Lee Man-soo, Yang Jun-hyuk, and Lee Seung-yup to coach. What’s the real story?
After a series of twists and turns, Jang Hyo-jo returned to baseball in 2005 as a Samsung scout, much to his delight. But it wasn’t in a Samsung uniform, and he was treated much worse than he is now. “I was under a lot of stress when I was a Samsung scout,” Jang said of his illness.
It wasn’t until 2010 that he returned to the field as the head hitting coach for Samsung’s second team. He became the head coach of the second team and coached them passionately. Bae Young-seop, who won the Rookie of the Year award, as well as Park Seok-min, Mo Sang-gi, and Jung Hyung-sik, were all coached by Jang Hyo-jo. Jang Hyo-jo was selected as one of the top 10 Legends All-Stars in 2011 and thanked them at Jamsil Baseball Stadium on July 23. It was the last time they appeared in front of their fans.
Both experienced extreme stress after retirement
Choi Dong-won did baseball commentary for a while after his retirement and appeared on TV shows that didn’t suit him well. He ran unsuccessfully as an opposition candidate for the Busan West Local Assembly, but his hometown was still Grund, and his last job was with Hanwha. In 2001, he briefly served as a pitching coach, and in October 2004, he was named pitching coach, a position he held for a long time. Choi helped Choi Sung-min, who was trying to make a comeback at the time, and worked hard with Ryu Hyun-jin, who was still a work in progress. He was promoted to Hanwha’s second team manager in November 2006 in recognition of his leadership.
But just as he was reaching the peak of his coaching career, he faced the twilight of his life. Former SK coach Lee Man-soo, Jang Hyo-jo’s junior and a friend of Choi Dong-won, said, “They both had something in common: they were so glamorous in their prime, but after they retired, they suffered from extreme stress.”
Jang Hyo-jo lost weight rapidly in late July 2011 and underwent a thorough examination at Samsung Medical Center in early August. He was diagnosed with stage 4 liver and stomach cancer. His condition worsened and he was transferred to Dong-A University Hospital in Busan, near his home. Not wanting to be seen as weak, Jang Hyo-jo asked his teammates to “not mention the specifics of his illness” and refused to let anyone visit him. Eventually, on the morning of September 7, 2011, he passed away at the age of 55.
Choi Dong-won was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007 and underwent surgery. However, his condition deteriorated rapidly from 2010, and he spent time in Pocheon and elsewhere before finally passing away. On July 22, 2011, he appeared in an OB game between Gyeongnam Go and Gunsan Sango, and when asked to throw a demonstration pitch, he was very shy and said, “I’m the type of person who would do it, but I don’t think I can do it now.” His last words in public were. It was his last public remark.
On September 1, 2021, the Daegu Daily Newspaper published an article titled “Iron Arm Choi Dong-won, No Hitting Master Jang Hyo-jo?”. Lotte built a statue of Choi Dong-won in front of the Sajik Stadium, installed a permanent number, and continues to hold memorial events every year. Last year, it was the 11th anniversary of Choi’s death, so they held a large-scale “Memorial Day” event to honor him. They even created the Choi Dong-won Pitcher Award. But Samsung doesn’t care about Jang Hyo-jo. The memorialization was brief. They didn’t even give him a permanent phone number, let alone a memorial statue. “It’s like Samsung is taking the history of the team and the history of professional baseball lightly,” lamented the Daily News.토토사이트
This is the kind of lack of attention and consideration for heroes and legends in South Korea. Why not create a fixed “Day” to honor the two players, or, like Major League Baseball, designate an area for former legends to watch, so fans can remember them and get autographs?
In their later years, Jang Hyo-jo and Choi Dong-won relied on their faith. Jang Hyo-jo, who once slapped Lee Man-soo, who was evangelizing him, did a 180 and even raised his son to be a pastor. May they both rest in heaven.