Korea's new home run king talks breaking the record and his hit-by-pitch mark

May 8th, 2024
Photos courtesy KBO. Design by Sophia Dyer.

This story was excerpted from Michael Clair's International Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There was one thought flashing through Jeong Choi’s head as he rounded the bases after hitting his 468th career home run, breaking the mark held by Korean baseball legend Seung Yuop Lee: I wish I did this at home.

“The realization sunk in as I was rounding the bases: I finally got the record and now I can solely focus on the team performance versus my home run record,” Choi said through MLB Korea's Sunjae Song, who interpreted. “The one thing that was a little bit difficult was the fact that I was away. I would have loved to hit that home run when I was home in Incheon. That's what was in my mind. Even though it was an away game, I heard all the cheering that the fans did for me, and I was very appreciative of that.”

The location where the record-breaking home run would be hit was a clubhouse conversation as Choi approached the mark. Amidst all the buzz and media attention, Choi’s Landers teammates let him know where he should have saved his record-breaking swing.

“Teammates were joking that for the record-breaking home run, I had to hit it at home and not while we’re on the road,” Choi said. “Even the team’s front office was briefing me for what would happen once the record was broken.”

Choi admitted that the chase and all the pressure around it did weigh on him as he drew closer to the record.

“Sometimes I couldn't concentrate while I was at bat because I was thinking about hitting a home run versus actually focusing on that at-bat,” Choi said. “There was a lot of pressure, there was a lot of buzz around. But thankfully, I was able to hit the home run sooner than later.”

Jeong Choi swings for the record. Photo courtesy the KBO.

Fortunately for Choi, tying the record removed most of that pressure -- something that was fortunate given that he missed nearly a week’s worth of games after being hit by a pitch from former Pirates pitcher Wil Crowe the day after he tied Lee’s mark.

“Tying the record was actually more pressure for me,” Choi noted. “When I got hit by the pitch and missed a few games, I was more so worried about the rhythm that I was on and losing that feeling versus not being able to hit the home run.”

Of course, Choi owns more than just the home run mark: The slugger, who has appeared in three World Baseball Classic tournaments for Korea, also leads the KBO in runs (1,390 as of May 7) and holds the all-time professional baseball hit-by-pitch record with 332. That smashes Hughie Jennings' MLB record of 287 HBP and easily surpasses Craig Biggio’s more modern mark of 285.

“A lot of pundits will say that the reason why I get hit so much is because I'm close to the plate and I'm standing over the plate," Choi said. "Maybe there is a little bit of that, where I am kind of close. But I think it's more so that I approach the game right and a lot of pitchers will challenge me inside. I'm not doing anything different. The balls that I get hit by are balls that anyone would have gotten hit by, so I don't particularly think of the record much.”

Jeong Choi after breaking the HR record. Photo courtesy the KBO.

Still, a record is a record and Choi won’t shy away from it:

“Obviously I'm not proud of it, but as a record holder, it should be in the Guinness World Records,” Choi joked.

Though Choi didn’t originally grow up dreaming of becoming the home run king -- his first favorite sport was actually soccer -- he still has plenty of goals ahead of him.

“Every year, my personal goal is to hit double-digit home runs,” Choi said about his approach that has seen him reach double-digits every year since 2006. “But now that I have the record, I’m certainly looking forward to hitting 500 -- and even 600 after that.”