The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have enjoyed major contributions by international players over the decades, welcomed South Korean left-handed starting pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin to the team on Monday.
The Dodgers, who spent $25.7 million for exclusive rights to negotiate with Ryu, struck a six-year, $36 million deal with the pitcher just before a Sunday deadline that would have returned him to the Korean Baseball Organization's (KBO) Hanwha Eagles.
The 25-year-old Ryu, an All-Star in all seven of his KBO seasons, registered a 98-52 record with a 2.80 ERA for Hanwha and won the league's strikeout title five times featuring a fastball/change-up combination.
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, recalling the impact that pitchers Fernando Valenzuela of Mexico, Hideo Nomo of Japan and South Korean Chan Ho Park had with the Dodgers, said the team believed Ryu could follow in that tradition before helping the stocky pitcher put on a No. 99 Dodgers jersey.
"I watched Chan Ho pitch since I was young, a lot of Dodgers games," Ryu said through an interpreter at a news conference at Dodgers Stadium. "It's my honor to play for the Dodgers. I will do my best to follow Chan Ho's record here."
Park broke in with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 1994 and by 1997 he was a starter in the rotation, posting a 14-8 record, the first of five successive seasons with at least 13 wins.
In 2000, Park had his best season, going 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA and the next year was named to the National League All-Star team. He went on to register a career mark of 124-98, with his total victories, accumulated with five different teams, a record for a Korean pitcher.
While striking a humble tone, Ryu was not shy about spelling out his goals.
"My first goal is having two-digit wins, the (earned run) average of 2-point ERA, and my final goal is breaking Chan Ho's winning of 124, so probably more than that."
Ryu said he was pleased to sign with the Dodgers but liked his chances of earning a bigger salary in the future.
"I'm happy with my contract," he said. "It's my first deal with Major League Baseball. I'm going to do my best to get a better deal next time."
Ryu was given some direct advice by Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson.
When the Korean pitcher with the sinking change-up was asked about adjustments he might have to make in Major League Baseball, Johnson interrupted, "just tell him to throw strikes."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)