Park Jae-hong, one of the best all-around players in South Korean baseball, announced his retirement on Friday, saying he felt it was “the right time” to leave the game.
Park, 39, played 17 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization for three different clubs. The outfielder spent his final eight years with the SK Wyverns, winning three KBO championships.
Park said the Wyverns offered him an opportunity to receive coaching training after last season, but he turned it down so that he could return for his 18th season.
Park Jae-hong of the SK Wyverns announces his retirement at a news conference in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap News)
He declared for free agency, but was unable to find a suitor.
“I was confident that I could still play baseball with as much passion as any active player,” Park said, fighting back tears at a press conference in Seoul.
“I had been training hard until early January, and there was an interested club. But when the calls stopped coming, I lost the motivation to keep going and extend my career.”
Park is widely acknowledged as one of the KBO’s finest five-tool players, someone who could run, field, throw, hit and hit with power.
He made a sensational debut in 1996, becoming the first KBO player to have a 30/30 season, with 30 home runs and 36 steals for the Hyundai Unicorns, en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Two years later, Park had 30 homers and 43 steals, and had his third and last 30/30 season in 2000, with 32 homers and 30 swipes.
Over his career, Park hit 300 homers and stole 267 bases, along with a .284 batting average. He also won four Golden Gloves as an outfielder.
He is seventh in career homers and 10th in steals. Park remains the only KBO player with more than 200 home runs and 200 steals.
Slowed by injuries, Park had been a shell of his former self in recent years. He batted just .186 in 74 games in 2011 and then .250 in 46 games last year. (Yonhap News)