Friday, March 2, 2018

Park Jae Hong: Did He Eat the Bread?

While looking through cards the other day as a part of my spring cleaning, I came across this 2000 Teleca Korea/Japan Super Games card of Park Jae-hong. This lead me to do a little reading up on the retired player and the stuff that I read was pretty awesome. I will share a bit about him in this post and tell you the reason behind the rather strange question "Did he eat the bread?" that is a part of the post title. I promise that it's not just to get some clicks.

Park Jae-hong was born in and grew up in Gwangju, South Korea. Gwangju is the home of the KIA Tigers (formerly Haitai Tigers) so everyone naturally thought that he would be a Tiger after graduating from Gwangju Ilgo High School. In 1992, after high school graduation, he was drafted by the Haitai Tigers, but he refused to sign with them and went on to university at Yonsei University. After attending university, he again refused to play for Haitai and was signed and traded to the Hyundai Unicorns (later became the Nexen Heroes) in 1996. This lead to all of the locals of Gwangju labeling him as a traitor. He didn't let any of the negativity affect him and went on to win Rookie of the Year with Hyundai in 1996.

In 1996 he didn't just win Rookie of the Year, he owned it by becoming the first ever 30-30 player in KBO history with 30 HRs and 36 steals. He also won a Golden Glove that year in the outfield. Throughout his 17 year KBO career, Park went on to enter the 30-30 club two more times, once in 1998 and again in 2000. He also added 3 more Golden Gloves in 1997, 1998, and 2000. Park was also an eight time All-Star won the All-Star Game MVP award in 2002.

After playing with Hyundai for 7 seasons, he did eventually end up playing for the KIA Tigers in 2003 and 2004. This was also around the same time that his career was starting to dip. He still posted a great season with KIA in 2003 and still had some other excellent seasons after leaving KIA to join the SK Wyverns in 2005, but it was clear that Park had peaked early with the Unicorns. After joining the Wyverns in 2005, he went on to finish out his career with them in 2012 at the age of 39.

Now for the story of the bread. During the 2004 KBO Semi-playoffs, the KIA Tigers were eliminated by the Doosan Bears on October 9th. After the game there was an "incident" that happened in the KIA locker room and was reported on by OSEN news (original Korean article) and this is where the mystery of the bread eater began. After being eliminated by the Bears, KIA's players were gathered in the locker room looking and feeling devastated. Their heads were down and some of the players were shedding tears, but there was one player that was sitting there eating bread. Who was this player? Why was he eating bread at this time? These were 2 questions that were brought up and left unanswered in the original article. The only things that the article really stated was that in wasn't the appropriate time and place to be eating and that it was a veteran player with a high salary. This left a lot open to speculation and the Korean netizens joined in on the witch hunt for the player that was seen as being disrespectful and uncaring about what had just happened. This lead to Park being one of the accused and earned him the nickname "Bread Jae-hong" (빵재홍). Many years later in 2014, it turned out that all of the originally accused bread eaters had not eaten the bread and the real "criminal" was Ma Hae-young (마해영).

Either way it all lead to some funny stories and the following skit in 2013 on MBC Sports Plus during their sports show Baseball Tonight Ya with Park swinging a baguette and hitting what appears to be an oversize Home Run Ball snack.