A South Korean baseball umpire was assaulted on the field in midgame by an inebriated fan on Wednesday night, an unsavory incident adding a new twist to an ongoing controversy surrounding questionable officiating in the nation's top competition.
During a Korea Baseball Organization game between the Kia Tigers and the SK Wyverns at the Tigers' home in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul, a male fan ran onto the field and jumped the first base umpire Park Keun-young from behind. The incident happened before the start of the top of the seventh.
The fan had climbed over the fence in the "Surprise Zone" from the first base side. The Tigers' brand new home, Gwangju-Kia Champions Field, features the Surprise Zone along the first base and the third base lines on the ground level for fans to enjoy the action from up close.
The Tigers don't place security guards in front of the Surprise Zone seats because they may block spectators' views.
The fan, later identified as a 30-year-old, wrapped his arm around Park's neck before the two were separated by SK's first base coach Back Jae-ho and a security guard.
The Tigers handed the fan over to local police.
The incident came on the heels of a series of questionable calls made during the three-game series.
In the series opener on Tuesday, second base umpire Na Gwang-nam called an SK runner safe on a steal attempt at second base, even though replays showed the runner was tagged before even touching the bag.
Na was later replaced by Park, who was an alternate, citing an illness. Na was hospitalized on Wednesday with food poisoning.
Also in Tuesday's game, home plate umpire Kwon Young-cheol called a hit-by-pitch on an SK hitter Na Ju-hwan, but replays later showed the pitch actually hit Na's bat on a check swing.
Then in the sixth inning on Wednesday, Park called an SK runner safe at first base on a bang-bang play as the Tigers tried to turn a double play. The throw appeared to beat the runner narrowly, according to replays.
The Tigers ended up winning the game 6-3. Their manager Sun Dong-yol apologized for "the unpleasant incident that caused our fans concern."
Incidentally, Park was involved in a highly controversial blown call last season that prompted his demotion to the Futures League, the KBO's minor league.
Park missed a force out at second base in a game between the Nexen Heroes and the LG Twins in Seoul on June 15 and called an LG runner safe, even though the player sliding into the bag was out by a substantial margin.
Park's was among a series of officiating mishaps that marred the KBO last season. Just about a month into the 2014 season, officiating has once again taken the center stage, prompting fans to call for expansion of the video review system.
Currently, the KBO allows video replay on home run calls only. Frustrated fans and skeptics of the current state of officiating in the league believe the KBO should follow Major League Baseball and expand its replay to cover fair or foul calls and force play at bases.
Before the start of this season, KBO secretary general Yang Hae-young said the league would conduct feasibility studies on expanded video review and that the KBO would consider making the move by as early as 2015.
Earlier on Wednesday, two current KBO managers said the league should expand its video review.
Yeom Kyung-yup, manager of the Heroes, said the KBO should heed calls of its fans.
"Teams and fans alike want expanded video review," Yeom told reporters before the Heroes took on the Doosan Bears in Seoul on Wednesday. "I think the league should do it."
Yeom said he understood umpires constantly face scrutiny and it only makes their job more difficult.
"I think the umpires have become more nervous because they've come under the microscope in the midst of controversy," Yeom said. "I think that has led to more mistakes. Umpires are human, too, and they can't be perfect."
Song Il-soo, manager of the Bears, agreed with Yeom that the KBO should expand its video review system, saying, "Since MLB has expanded it, I think we should do that, too." (Yonhap)