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Home run race heats up for new record
MARCH 21, 2014 04:30  
1274. It is the magic number that Korea`s professional baseball must go over to break its 15-year-old record. In 1999, when Samsung Lions slugger Lee Seung-yeop sent 54 balls over the fence to become the first batter to hit over 50 home runs in one season and grab the home run champion title, the Korean pro baseball set another record: four-digit home runs in season total with 1,274 homers, 383 more than in the previous year. At that time, the Korean pro baseball league had plenty of sluggers to the extent that Shim Jung-soo (Doosan Bears) and Pierson (Hyundai Unicorns), the 10th rankers in the home run race, hit 31 homers. Since then, five seasons saw more than 1,000 home runs a season. However, the 1999 record has remained unbroken.

From 2004, the number of home runs decreased sharply, with all the seasons except 2009 having only three-digit homers. Pitchers overpowered batters, as baseball clubs preferred foreign pitchers and many sluggers retired or moved to foreign leagues. Between 2004 and last year, each season`s home run champion won the title by sending around 30 balls over the fence, except in 2010, when Lee Dae-ho (Lotte Giants) won the title with 44 homers. Under the circumstances, there were 1,155 home runs in 2009 because middle-class hitters performed better. There were only four hitters who hit 20 or more home runs in 2008. In 2009, 18 hitters did so. The number of hitters with 20 or more home runs fell back to 13 in 2010.

As all the teams have powerful sluggers this season, it is expected that a season home run record will be set. Considering a total of 798 balls flew over the fences last year, it is possible to hit four-digit home runs if nine foreign sluggers hit 20 each on average. In addition, Korean sluggers including Park Byung-ho (Nexen Heroes), Choi Hyeong-woo (Samsung Lions) and Choi Jeong (SK Wyverns) and younger and promising sluggers have been showing off their ability to hit long balls in exhibition games, sparking hopes that there will be a fierce home run race from early in the season.

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