(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 11-12)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- Besieged by mounting criticism over his past drunk driving cases, embattled former big leaguer Kang Jung-ho has abandoned his comeback bid with the top South Korean league.
In an Instagram post, Kang, 33, announced Monday that he has informed the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) that he will not attempt to rejoin the team.
Kang, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates last August, was seeking a return to the Heroes, a franchise for whom he'd played from 2006 to 2014 before going to the majors.
Kang had been grilled in the court of public opinion over his three drunk driving incidents, the last of which led to a suspended jail term in May 2017. Kang held a press conference last Tuesday in Seoul to apologize for his mishaps, but his detractors questioned the timing and sincerity of his apology. They argued that he was only hoping to extend his playing career and that if he were truly sorry, the apology should have come three years earlier.
Kang's repeated pledges to work with children also drew scoffs, with critics saying Kang's mere presence in the KBO after getting caught three times for drunk driving sends a wrong message to youths. Kang had also offered to donate his entire first-year salary if he returned.
In the social media post, Kang said he had thought long and hard about his future after last week's press conference, and concluded that he had only caused those around him much trouble.
"I realized once again that I had committed too big of a mistake to be asking fans for their forgiveness," Kang wrote. "I wanted to show people that I had changed, and I wanted to play baseball with the Heroes again. But I see that I was just being greedy and that I was being a burden to the KBO, the Heroes and my fellow baseball players."
Kang said he has always considered the Heroes his home and he wanted to be reunited with his former club to begin his career makeover. He acknowledged that he only belatedly realized he had put the team and its players in a "difficult situation."
"I'd like to apologize from the bottom of my heart to anyone that I've hurt during my comeback attempt," Kang added.
The Heroes had retained rights to Kang when he left for the Pirates, and if Kang had signed with them, he would have had to serve a one-year suspension handed down by the KBO last month.
Heroes' general manager Kim Chi-hyun said he spoke with Kang Sunday night and the player apologized to him and the team.
"We had a lot of internal discussions on Kang's status, and we respect his decision," Kim said.
Because Kang wasn't a free agent and he went through the posting process to sign with the Pirates, Kang was placed on the "voluntarily retired" list in 2015. If the Heroes choose to activate him from that list, Kang will be able to sign with other KBO teams. But if the Heroes keep him there, Kang won't be able to join another KBO club, but he will still be eligible to go overseas if he chooses to or if he can find a suitor.
Kang wrote on Instagram that he has yet to decide on his future.
"No matter what I do, I will continue to try to become a better person and to take care of my family and people around me," Kang said. "I will give back to the community and become a contributing member of society."
Kang made his big league debut in 2015 and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, thanks to a .287/.355/.461 line, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games.
Then in 2016, Kang posted a .513 slugging percentage while setting career highs with 21 home runs and 62 RBIs in 103 games.
But Kang's big league career went into a spiral in December 2016, when he drove into a guardrail in Seoul while under the influence of alcohol, and then fled the scene. He received a suspended jail term for that offense in 2017.
The former KBO All-Star shortstop missed the entire 2017 season because he was unable to obtain his U.S. work permit. Then he appeared in only three games at the end of the 2018 season.
Kang's four-year deal with the Pirates expired in 2018, but they gave him a second chance by handing him a new one-year deal for 2019
Kang led the majors with seven home runs in spring training in 2019, but in the regular season, he stumbled to a .169/.222./.395 line in 65 games with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs. The Pirates released him on Aug. 4.
Kang briefly worked out with the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A team, but no new deal came out of it.
Kang had been among the premier sluggers in the KBO. In 2014, his last season before moving to the majors, Kang established a new KBO record for the most home runs in a season by a shortstop with 40.