Major League Baseball’s Midsummer Classic to feature first-ever Korean starting pitcher

LOS ANGELES—In a bold (yet expected) move, Dodger and National League All-Star manager Dave Roberts will start his own pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, in the 2019 All-Star Game, it was announced. The southpaw’s start at Progressive Field in Cleveland marks the first time a Korean player will start an MLB All-Star Game and just the second Asian player ever to take the mound in the Midsummer Classic. The tactful announcement comes early since starting pitchers aren’t usually named until the day before the game.

            This unfurls after injuries forced Ryu to miss all of 2015 and all but one game in 2016; 2017 virtually became his rehab season. In 2018, he was limited to 15 starts because of a severe groin injury, however when he did have the ball he put up a 1.97 ERA and 7-3 record. This season, he was essentially unhittable in May, boasts a 1.83 ERA and leads the league in wins. He was the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter for 2019, his first-ever with the team (and a significant move, considering Clayton Kershaw is still on the roster and will join Ryu in Northeast Ohio). Some would say he is the best pitcher in baseball right now.

Keith Allison photo

Keith Allison photo

            A trend is brewing for the Dodgers: the first Korean, Japanese, Mexican and Jewish pitchers to take the mound during the All-Star games all came from the team. Coincidence, or do most of the best pitchers in baseball come from outside our borders and into the hands of the Dodgers? The team, to be fair, was historically viewed as a pitching factory and international powerhouse.

            Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo, for example, was the second Japanese player to appear in the Majors in his rookie season in 1995 and posted a 2.54 ERA with a 13-6 record in 28 starts and 191 1/3 innings. He led the National League in strikeouts (236) and was the first Asian starter in an All-Star game when he took the mound at the Midsummer Classic that same year.  Nomo went on to be selected as the National League Rookie of the Year.

            Sandy Koufax was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA in 176 starts with the Dodgers from 1962 to 1966. During that stretch, he led the National League in ERA every season and pitched four no-hitters. The MLB had two All-Star games from 1959 through 1962, where Koufax appeared in both games.

            Fernando Valenzuela, meanwhile, was the first Mexican pitcher to start an All-Star game. His rookie campaign ended with a World Series ring, NL Cy Young and NL Rookie of the Year honors. He is best remembered for his time with the Dodgers.

            Who will be the next “first” of their nationality for the Dodgers?

            Ryu’s manager, by coincidence, is half-Japanese; Roberts will manage the National League all stars. Ryu is also making his first-ever all star appearance.