The journey of unexpected Subway Series legend across 20 years

Dae-Sung Koo
Dae-Sung Koo / Chris Trotman/GettyImages

South Korean left-hander Dae-Sung Koo played for the KBO League and the Japanese Pacific League. Starting his career with the Hanwha Eagles, he earned MVP and Gold Glove honors in 1996 when he won 18 and limited the offense to a 1.88 ERA. From 2001 to 2004, he pitched in the JPL for the Orix BlueWave to an ERA just under 4. At 35 years old, he was ready to finally compete in the US and was deciding between the Mets and the Yankees. In January 2005, he signed with the New York Mets for one year with an option for the 2006 season, making him the first Korean player to play across the board in the KBO, NPB, and MLB.

His first major league appearance was on the road in Cincinnati against the Reds. Stepping on the bump in the 8th inning he shut down D'Angelo Jimenez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sean Casey, striking out the first two. What gives Mr. Koo legend status is what happened in the batter's box. Koo only had two total at-bats in 2005: the first was a noncompetitive strikeout in which his bat never left his shoulders, his second at-bat resulted in a hotshot double over Bernie Williams' head.

Mets reliever faced Yankees ace and won

On May 21st, the Yankees were in Shea Stadium with none other than The Big Unit on the bump. Right after striking out Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada in the 7th, Koo steps in to face Randy Johnson. With no men on, on a 1-1 count, Koo launches the ball to deep center field and reaches second base to all around applause. Jose Reyes comes up to bat and lays down a bunt. Posada fields the ball throwing Reyes out at first but all of a sudden commotion is cooking on the third base side of the field. Martinez finally throws to home and because Johnson did not back up Posada, Koo dives right through just dodging Posada's swipe tag.

The Mets went on to win this match 7 - 1 but it turned out Koo suffered a shoulder injury from sliding at home thus limiting his effectiveness and playing time. After his DL stint he was sent down to the Mets' Triple-A team in August, pitching in the playoffs. His career in the MLB ended in average fashion. In 23 innings, he faced 106 batters: striking out 23 and allowing 10 earned runs. He was DFA'd that September and his 2006 option was declined which sent him back to the Hanwha Eagles.

Koo came back home, jumping right in to the 2007 World Baseball Cup the next day. He played in the KBO from 2006 to 2010, posting 64 saves and a 3.22 ERA in 214 innings. At 41 years of age, he officially retired from the KBO to play in Australia's brand new baseball league. According to Chosunilbo, he declined a salary and instead asked to play for at least two years. He pitched for the Sydney Blue Sox, winning Reliever of the Year twice and etching a 2.15 ERA in five seasons. Koo pitched his last season as a pro for the Blue Sox in 2015, became their pitching coach in 2016, and finally manager of the new Korean club Geelong-Korea in 2018. In 2019, at the ripe age of 49, he stepped on the mound and tossed a scoreless ninth inning to end a game.

Dae-Sung Koo never had shut down stuff. His success came from his deceptive windup and his ability to stay versatile. As a Met, he doubled off Randy Johnson and scored from second on a bunt but as a baseball player he adapted to each team and culture, providing them with a "plug-n-play" style. This Koo style is what gives him legend status.

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