The 500-home run milestone is close at hand for Lee Seung-yeop of Samsung Lions.
The first baseman hit a homer flying high over the center right field fence against Nexen Heroes in Daegu on June 29. It was his 15th home run of the season and the 498th of his pro career, including in the Japanese league. Lee is now two short of the 500-homer mark.
Earlier, he had made the 2,000th hit of his Korean and Japanese pro baseball careers combined, against Lotte Giants on May 8.
His career 500 homers, even if he attained the goal, will not be acknowledged as official by the Korea Baseball Organization, which governs the local pro sport, since most of the homers were hit during his run in Japan. But the number will likely stand unchallenged for some time.
The U.S. major league has just 25 batters who slugged 500 or more homers in its 136-year history. In the 92-year history of Japanese pro baseball, eight batters have reached the 500-home run mark.
In Korean pro baseball, Yang Joon-hyeok, Kia Tigers coach who retired in 2010, holds the home run record of 351.
Lee slammed his career 400th homer in 2006 when he played for the Yomirui Giants in Japan. In the Korean league, he has a total of 339 home runs under his belt.
“Lion King” Lee, who debuted as a pro baseball pitcher in 1995, slammed his first home run off underhand pitcher Lee Gang-cheol of Haitai Tigers on May 2 of that year.
He was honored as the top slugger for the first time in his career with 32 home runs in 1997. His home run spree went on with 54 homers in 1999 and 56 homers in 2003, an all-time season high in Asia.
He became the home run king five times from 1997 to 2003 with a total of 324 home runs over the period, and left for the Japanese league in 2004.
In Japan, he belted 159 home runs over eight years playing for Chiba Lotte Marines, Yomiuri Giants and Orix Buffaloes.
He was at the peak of his career in Japan in 2006 with 41 homers that season. Two surgeries on his left thumb ligament and left knee kept his homer record stagnant, but it bounced back at Oriox in 2011 with 15 home runs.
He returned to Samsung this year.
By Chun Sung-woo