Jong-Beom Lee (The Ichiro of Korea / Son of Wind)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 10", Weight 160 lb.
Jong-Beom Lee was a two-time Korean Series MVP (1993, 1997) and Korea Baseball Organization MVP in 1994 with the Haitai Tigers and became known as the "Ichiro of Korea." He also was MVP of the 1989 Asian Championship. He played in the 1989 Intercontinental Cup. In the 1991 Intercontinental Cup, he hit .286/.444/.464 and fielded .893 at shortstop. He stole 6 bases in 7 tries to finish 4th in the tourney in swipes behind Yaw-Teing Chang, Jose Estrada and Koichi Oshima. In 1998, the Chunichi Dragons acquired Lee for 450 million yen, making him the first Korea Baseball Organization hitting star to make the jump to Nippon Pro Baseball. Early in his NPB career, he was severely hit and injured by a pitch but still hit a solid .283/.387/.475 in 67 games, homering 10 times and stealing 18 bases in 26 tries. Despite missing about half of the season, Lee still finished second in the Central League in stolen bases, trailing only Takuro Ishii. Jong-Beom fell to .238/.310/.373 in 1999, though he did swipe 24 bases and was once again second to Ishii in SB. He also moved from shortstop to the outfield, creating higher offensive expectations. In 2000, Lee had a .275/.332/.406 season for Chunichi, again a disappointing season for a highly-paid gaijin player. After a slow start in 2001 (2 for 13, 4 strikeouts), he returned to South Korea's Kia Tigers. He had been considered a significant bust by Japanese fans despite a fair .261/.337/.406 line in four seasons there. He was on the Korean team that won Bronze at the 2003 Asian Championship. He led the 2006 World Baseball Classic with six doubles and made the All-Tourney team as one of the top outfielders along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki after a .400/.464/.640 series.
Lee started very slowly in 2007, hitting .183 with one home run in 57 games. He was sent down to the minors and manager Jung-hwan Seo told him he had a month to get back into form. Seo told the press that he had been calling on Lee to retire before he went into decline but Lee refused to listen. Lee said it was his decision when to retire and that others would not force him into it.
Main source: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland