Remember Felix Pie? Once upon a time in 2007, he was the highly touted prospect for the Chicago Cubs who, at the time, was compared to all-stars like Vlad Guerrero. Instead, his Major League career became a bust, bouncing around the Majors before fading into “Where are they now?” territory.
A few months ago, he surfaced in South Korea via twitter. After his last Majors stint in Pittsburgh, Pie found a home with the Hanhwa Eagles, one of the ten professional teams in Korea. But this seems to be a different Felix Pie, long distant from his old label as a Grade-A bust.
During his debut season in the KBO League, Pie hit a .326 batting average, 17 home runs, and 92 RBIs — finishing in the top two of all major batting categories for the Eagles. But it was his talent with the glove in center outfield and his outlandish antics that captured the hearts of KBO fans. He even got a kick-ass hard-rock chant song with his name in it from Hanhwa fans.
A reddit thread called Pie “Korea’s Mike Trout”, but really, he’s more of a Yasiel Puig. Like Puig, Pie plays with unrestrained aggression thanks to his superior athleticism and a Caribbean flair in the outfield and the batter’s box. Pie’s style is a huge deviation from the highly tactical, organized small-ball style prevalent in Korean baseball.
Korean baseball never really seen a guy like Pie, and for Pie, it was his chance of reaching the levels of stardom he was expected to reach. It had all the marks of a happy marriage, following a honeymoon season.
But Pie won’t be donning a Hanhwa jersey next season — or that of any other competing KBO teams anytime soon. According to Korean media, Pie and Hanhwa’s discussions for a new contract broke down, leaving the latter to quickly swoop up former Washington National Nyjer Morgan as their replacement for Pie.
(Which is going oh-so-swimmingly, by the way. Morgan, known for his proclivity for bench-clearing brawls, was kicked out of Hanhwa’s preseason camp on two occasions.)
A lengthy Yonhap News article came out on Wednesday that detailed the communication breakdown regarding Pie’s contract, with Hanhwa and Pie’s agent telling two wholly different narratives. According to Josh Yates, Pie’s agent, Hanhwa dragged the negotiations for too long, only to blindside Pie by signing Morgan. Hanhwa refutes Yate’s claim, saying they did “everything (they) could with Pie.”
At the end, Pie is left without a Korean team to play for next season. Hanhwa still holds Pie’s player rights for two more years, and they demand a player in compensation from a KBO team that wishes to sign Pie. KBO teams have a foreign players limit of three players — and at least one outfield player — and most teams have already filled their quota.
With the new KBO League season starting this Saturday, there’s almost no time for Pie, should he find a new Korean team, to settle in. He runs into the same scheduling problem in Japan and the United States, where both professional leagues are also opening their new season in the next week.
It’s a big blow for Korean baseball who has been making slow progress opening doors for foreign players. Just last year, KBO scrapped away the foreign player salary cap of $300,000 and increased the foreign player quota from two to three per team.
With former Major Leaguers like Jorge Cantu and Philip Humber (yeah, that Philip Humber who once pitched a perfect game in the Majors) now coming to play ball in Korea, Pie was the odds-on favorite to be the foreign poster boy for a more international KBO League. But for now, it seems we’ll have to wait before we see another poster of Felix Pie in Korea. Korean baseball still has a long way to go.
Cover photo from http://koreajoongangdaily.com.