Lions’ Lee swings for fences, recordsOn April 2, Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers made history by hitting a home run against the Anaheim Angels’ Ramon Ortiz. At 27 years, 249 days, Rodriguez became the youngest baseball player anywhere to reach 300 home runs, beating the old record by 79 days, which was held by the Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx.
Nowadays, the talk of the town is not will Lee Seung-yeob, the first baseman for the Samsung Lions, break Foxx’s record, but how soon. At 26 years, 300 days, Lee has 298 home runs and loads of time to do it.
Good timing and a smooth swing have made many of Lee’s home runs depart ballparks in gorgeous arcs. Lee is not an upper-body power hitter, though at 183 centimeters (6 feet) and 85 kilograms (187 pound), with a little time in the gym he could easily choose to become one.
Instead, Lee uses his hips and legs to generate the force of swing. As a timing device, he lifts his right leg just before impact. It’s a swing that has been compared to the pendulum on a very precise Swiss clock.
Lee doesn’t swing at just any pitch. He uses his brain to analyze a pitcher’s patterns and then goes for the kill. He loves pitches that are served upstairs, on the outside edge of the strike zone.
Since hitting his first home run on May 2, 1995, Lee has become the No. 1 slugger from the Lions. He has smacked at least 32 round-trippers since 1997. In 1999, he hit 54 home runs, nearly breaking the Asian single season record set by Japan’s Sadaharu Oh, who hit 55 in 1964. Oh also played first base and was a left-handed hitter, for the Yomiuri Giants.
Last year, Lee had another spectacular year with 47 home runs. Because he has already hit 30 homers this year, 13 games ahead of last season’s pace, his chances to become Asia’s single season home run king are pretty good.
If Lee is out to set records, he might also consider trying to hit 30 or more home runs for another six years, By doing that he would beat Foxx’s record of 12 years hitting 30 or more, established from 1929 to 1940. Next in line might be Oh’s 19 years hitting 30 home runs or more, achieved from 1962 to 1980, when Oh retired with 868 career dingers.
Some might argue that smaller ballparks and less-talented pitchers in Korea than in the Major Leagues explain Lee’s achievements.
Those arguments have been heard before, particularly when discussing Oh’s record. The only difference is that Oh’s record is somewhat tainted by his use of a compressed bat.
It’s true that Lee did face weaker pitching and that Korean ballparks are smaller. But when Lee steps into the batter’s box, pitchers work hard to not give him anything decent to swing at. This constant awareness by opposing pitchers is what makes Lee’s feats remarkable.
Lee is having what could be his best season. In a recent interview, he said that he has put more emphasis on weight training in order to maintain his stamina, a move to prepare himself for the grueling schedule of the Major Leagues, which he hopes to enter when this season ends. It’s probable that Lee will use his feat of beating Foxx as a springboard to get to the United States. If he doesn’t get there, it’s likely he won’t stop until he breaks the Asian single season mark.
by Brian Lee
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