Star slugger has uncertain futureThe recent exploits of Lee Seung-yeop, first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants, have delighted Korean baseball fans. Many had been hoping to see their native son reach the ultimate stage, U.S. Major League Baseball, next season.
Lee was only signed to a one-year contract with the Giants, and his gaudy numbers - .325 average, 41 home runs and 108 runs batted in, all in the top three for the Central League through Monday - had attracted serious attention from American major league scouts.
But recent reports from Japan indicate that Lee may stay put in Tokyo for at least another season because of a knee injury.
According to Korean online outlet My Daily, the Japanese sports paper Nikkan Sports ran a front-page story last week on Lee’s condition, indicating he has scheduled surgery for his left knee to take place this Friday. The slugger began experiencing pain in late August. On Sept. 3, Lee was dropped from the starting lineup moments before an away game versus the Chunichi Dragons, and quickly moved back to Tokyo for treatment. The Giants have since limited Lee’s plate appearances to three per game.
Nikkan Sports reported that the rehab process, as well as Lee’s loyalty to the Giants, would likely keep the first baseman in Tokyo for at least the next season. The paper quoted Lee as having said earlier in the season, “I am very grateful for manager [Tatsunori] Hara and the Giants’ teammates for their faith in me.”
Last Sunday, in an interview with another newspaper, The Sports Hochi, Lee said he will opt for his knee operation on Friday regardless of whether he finishes first in the home-run race. He trails American Tyrone Woods of the Dragons 45 to 41 after Woods hit a home run in Monday night’s game..
“About a month ago, tests showed that I had no choice but to have the surgery,” Korean online sports media outlet OSEN reported, based on Lee's comments to Sports Hochi.
Lee’s last game of the season was last night against the Dragons. He will miss the team’s finale against the Yakult Swallows on Sunday.
Lee’s knee problems have severely hampered his bid for the Japanese home run title: he hit his 40th homer on Sept. 18, and was, at that time, leading Tyrone Woods of the Dragons by five. But Woods has since zoomed past Lee, a fact which has been carefully noted by MLB scouts. Tyrone Woods previously set a Korean single season home-run record with 42 in 1998 with the Doosan Bears, only to lose the record to Lee’s 56 in 2003.
by Yoo Jee-ho