Saturday, 30th September 2023

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Retirement declaration ‘monster hitter’… Reasons for failing to re-enter the KBO League

Why did Eric Thames (37), who is regarded as the best foreign hitter in the history of Korean professional baseball, fail to re-enter the KBO League?안전놀이터

Thames announced his retirement through personal social media (SNS) on the 16th. He said, ‘The day has finally come. For the past 14 years, I have been blessed to call baseball my profession.”

The footsteps Thames left in the KBO League are great. Signed with the NC Dinos in 2014, batting average of 0.343, 37 homers and 121 RBIs in his first season. The following year, he made an even stronger impact with a .381 batting average of 47 home runs and 140 RBIs. He became the first player in KBO league history to join the 40 (home run)-40 (steal base) club and to hit cycling hits (hit for the cycle) twice in one season. As a result, he even won the league MVP (Most Valuable Player). After hitting 40 homers for two consecutive years in 2016, he signed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers of the US Major League (MLB) after the season and left the KBO League. His career (three-year) performance was a batting average of 0.349 (472 hits in 1351 at-bats), 124 home runs, and 382 RBI. Along with Merrill Kelly (former SK Wyverns, current Arizona Diamondbacks), it is evaluated as a successful case of reverse export by the KBO League.

Thames signed a contract with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in December 2020. The conditions are one year, annual salary of 1.2 million dollars (1.5 billion won). However, in his NPB debut against the Yakult Swallows in April, he suffered a fatal injury while defending. Right Achilles tendon ruptured. In early May, I was undergoing rehabilitation treatment after surgery in the United States, but I received a power outage notice from Yomiuri. Yomiuri, who was eliminated in the previous season with a 4-game losing streak, could not afford to wait for Thames to return. Thames, who has improved his physical condition to some extent, has been rumored to return to the KBO League from mid-2021. The NC club’s right to withhold Thames-related players was until the 2021 season.

At the time, the KBO League had difficulties in supplying foreign players due to the corona. He suffered a major injury (Achilles tendon rupture) that could affect his life, but some clubs carefully checked his condition, considering the impact he had made over the past three years. The conclusion was ‘no’. Considering his injury history, outfield defense was virtually impossible. To use it as a designated hitter, a question mark followed whether he could show his past performance again. The age, which is not small in the mid-30s, was also negative. At the time, a club scout said, “In the past, I hit while turning my body like a top, but I don’t know if that part will work. I can’t ignore the Achilles tendon injury.”

Thames recorded a batting average of 0.274 (23 hits in 84 at-bats), 3 homers and 16 RBIs in Triple-A under the Oakland Athletics last year. He finished the season without a big league call-up and eventually decided to retire. He said, ‘From thinking about retirement to signing with NC, all of this happened in a few days in 2013. I never thought I would fall in love with a country so quickly. I definitely had no idea how much fun it would be to play in the KBO.” Thank you so much for embracing me and Dinos. I love you all no matter which KBO team you support. I plan to visit Korea often, and if you see me, please do not hesitate to say hello.” 

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