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KBO fan guide: Who should White Sox fans root for?

The Korean Baseball Organization will start during the early morning hours in the USA on May 5.

Miss baseball? Lacking a team to cheer for? Fear not! The Korean Baseball Organization will start on May 5, and you have 10 teams to choose from. Each one has at least one reason for White Sox fans to be interested.

Doosan Bears (Seoul, established 1982)
13 finals appearances, 6 championships (most recent: 2019)
2019 season: 88-55-1, won championship (4-0)

Over the past five seasons, the reigning champions made it to the finals all five times, and they won three of those. During those seasons, the Bears’ record is 437-278-5 (.610), and they do not appear to be slowing down in the near future. If you want a team to bandwagon, the Bears are your choice.

Hanwha Eagles (Daejeon, established 1986)
6 finals appearances, 1 championship (1999)
2019 season: 58-86, missed playoffs

Remember Eric Surkamp? No worries if you don’t. But this lefthander had an OK season of relief with the White Sox in 2014 (4.81 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 4.59 xFIP in 24 ⅓ innings). That also was Surkamp’s best season in the major leagues, and the highlight of it occurred in his last appearance. On Sept. 27, 2014, the White Sox led the eventual American League Champion Kansas City Royals, 5-3 in the top of the eighth. Surkamp inherited runners on first and second with no outs. Robin Ventura called on Surkamp to face the dangerous Eric Hosmer. On the first pitch, Hosmer hit a ground ball to short, and the White Sox turned a 6-4-3 double play. Ventura pulled Surkamp after one pitch, but Surkamp only needed one pitch to increase his team’s chances of winning the game by 20% (FanGraphs). Not many major league pitchers can say they did that.

Surkamp went on to play one season with the Eagles. Unfortunately, despite the KBO being a lower level of play, Surkamp put up worse numbers than he did for the White Sox. Wow, he really did save his best stuff for the South Side, didn’t he? If you like players who do that, and if you like teams that most recently won a championship between 15-21 years ago, the Eagles could be for you.

Kia Tigers (Gwangju, established 1982)
11 finals appearances, 11 championships (most recent: 2017)
2019 season: 62-80-2, missed playoffs

Like the Chicago Bulls, the Tigers have won every championship they have been participated in. Also similar to the Chicago Bulls, the Tigers are not good right now. Like, at all. So, the Tigers could be the team for Bulls fans who are really missing basketball.

For fellow White Sox fans in the Hoosier State, Indiana native Jeremy Hazelbaker was on the Tigers’ roster in 2019. Don’t worry about his stats with the Tigers; they’re totally irrelevant. Hazelbaker is still in baseball, but he is a free agent.

Kiwoom Heroes (Seoul, established 2008)
2 finals appearances, 0 championships
2019 season: 86-57-1, lost in finals (4-0)

Remember Jerry Sands? Back in 2016, this old friend was slashing .321/.387/.429 for the White Sox through May 1. Well, if you don’t remember Sands, that’s fine, but he played for the Heroes for two seasons (2018-19). In those two seasons, Sands played 164 games, and he was among the most dangerous hitters in the league. In those 164 games, Sands slashed .306/.391/.574, hitting 40 home runs and driving in 150. Sands has since moved over to Japan to play for the Hanshin Tigers (boo, go Dragons). But, if you want to cheer for a team to win its first championship, and you like players who contributed (in his case, admittedly not much) to a hot start to a White Sox season, the Heroes could be for you.

KT Wiz (Suwon, established 2015)
0 finals appearances
2019 season: 71-71-2, missed playoffs

The Wiz are the newest expansion team in the KBO, playing their first season in 2015. As is the case with many expansion teams, the Wiz struggled out of the starting blocks, failing to reach 60 wins in each of their first four seasons. The Wiz did, however, finish .500 in 2019, so they appear to be an up-and-coming team. Also, they recently acquired, uhh ... Odrisamer Despaigne. Stop making that face. He was pretty darn good with the Charlotte Knights last year! ERAs of 3.25 in an extremely juiced ball league do not grow on trees.

LG Twins (Seoul, established 1982)
6 finals appearances, 2 championship wins (most recent: 1994)
2019 season: 79-64-1, lost in quarterfinals (3-1)

Okay, so they are named the Twins. Many White Sox fans are likely already against this team because of its name, but the Twins had James Loney for a season (2017). Why do I mention this? Some South Siders might remember when Loney hit a come-from-behind grand slam against the Cubs in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS. After the grand slam, the Dodgers (84-78) suddenly led the Cubs (97-64) by a score of 4-2, and they never looked back. The Dodgers went on to win that game, 7-2, and they went on to sweep the series. The sweep ended the Cubs' hopes to end their title drought before it reached 100. Even though Loney was fairly quiet in Games 2 and 3, he still led all players in win probability added during the series. As a result, the Twins probably have as strong a case as any in this league for people who hate the Cubs.

Lotte Giants (Busan, established 1982)
5 finals appearances, 2 championships (most recent: 1992)
2019 season: 48-93-3, missed playoffs

The Giants are the biggest underdogs in the league. Sure, they have a pair of championships, but neither one was recent, especially considering how few teams there are. More importantly, the Giants were the worst team in the league last year, and they've had only one winning season in the past six years.

Andy Burns, who played for the Giants from 2016-17, was born in Greenville, S.C. Greenville happens to be the same town that Shoeless Joe Jackson spent the last 18 years of his life. This White Sox connection is a bit of a stretch, but hey, it's more than most of these teams have.

NC Dinos (Changwon, established 2013)
1 finals appearance, 0 championships
2019 season: 73-69-2, lost in wild card game

Like the Wiz, the Dinos are a newer expansion team. Unlike the Wiz, the Dinos have experienced some success. In fact, the Dinos made the playoffs in 2014, just their second season in the league. In 2015, the Dinos made it a round further, losing in the semifinals, and in 2016, they made it all the way to the finals before getting swept by the mighty Bears. The Dinos have not been able to make the final push, but they have been close. They're not the best, but they're good enough to win their first title if a few things go the right way. It will be an exciting time for this fan base after they finally break through and win it all.

Side note: Jake Smolinski, native of Rockford, played for the Dinos in 2019.

Samsung Lions (Daegu, established 1982)
18 finals appearances, 8 championships (most recent: 2014)
2019 season: 60-83-1, missed playoffs

The most relevant White Sox connection in the KBO belongs to the Samsung Lions. That's right; Tyler Saladino will play for the Lions this year. During his time with the White Sox, Saladino didn't do much with the bat, but his excellent defensive abilities made him a useful player. Also, remember that walk-off single against the Cubs? Good stuff.

SK Wyverns (Incheon, established 2000)
8 finals appearances, 4 championships (most recent: 2018)
2019 season: 88-55-1, lost in semifinals (3-0)

The Wyverns' strongest tie to the White Sox is Ricardo Pinto, who pitched 65 innings in 2018 between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Pinto compiled a 5.95 ERA for the affiliates, and he went on to pitch only 32 innings in the majors (all for other teams). Fortunately, the Wyverns are giving Pinto a chance to play at the highest level that Korea has to offer, as he is set to make his debut this season.

Beyond the presence of Pinto, the Wyverns are another solid choice for those looking to hop on a bandwagon. The Wyverns have made the playoffs each of the past three seasons. Last season, after tying the Bears for the best regular season record, they lost in the semifinals. But, in 2018, they took down the Bears, who had the best regular season record by 14 ½ games that year (!) in the finals. It's easy to like a team that knocked off the heavy favorite.