Kang Jung-ho (Yonhap)
Former major leaguer Kang Jung-ho, whose once promising career was derailed by a series of off-field problems, is returning to baseball.
The Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced Friday that they have signed their former All-Star shortstop to a one-year pact, extending a lifeline to a player who had abandoned a comeback bid two years ago. The Heroes said Kang will make the league minimum salary of 30 million won (US$24,750).
Ko Hyung-wook, general manager of the Heroes, said he wanted to give Kang, 34, "one last chance" to finish his career on the field.
Ko said he had spoken to Kang, who has been training on his own in the United States, three times over the phone last week to express the team's interest.
The Heroes said Kang will continue to work out in America and he will arrive back in South Korea at a later date.
Kang will be ineligible for this year because the KBO had handed down a one-year suspension in May 2020 over off-field issues, with the ban starting from the day Kang is formally registered as a KBO player. He also has to perform 300 hours of community service.
Kang played for the Heroes franchise from 2006 to 2014 before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kang had been among the premier sluggers in the KBO. In 2014, his last KBO campaign before moving to the majors, Kang established a new league record for the most home runs in a season by a shortstop with 40.
He made a strong big league debut in 2015, hitting 15 home runs and knocking in 58 runs in 126 games en route to finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. He followed that up with 21 home runs in 103 games in 2016.
However, Kang's big league career went into a tailspin in December 2016, when he drove into a guardrail in Seoul while under the influence of alcohol, and then fled the scene. He received a suspended jail term for that offense in 2017.
Kang missed the entire 2017 season because he was unable to obtain his U.S. work permit. Then he appeared in only three games at the end of the 2018 season.
The Pirates gave him a second chance with a new one-year deal for 2019. Kang led the majors with seven home runs in spring training that year, 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 in August 2019.
Kang sought to rejoin the Heroes in 2020 and held a press conference in June that year to apologize for his past misdeeds. Still unable to assuage the angry public, Kang gave up on that comeback attempt.
Because Kang wasn't a free agent and he went through the posting process to sign with the Pirates, Kang was placed on the "voluntarily retired" list in 2015 and the Heroes still retained rights to the player.
The Heroes said Friday they asked the KBO to remove Kang from that list. (Yonhap)