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Dodgers: A Farewell to Ace and Cultural Phenom, Hyun-Jin Ryu



When the news broke that Hyun-Jin Ryu had signed with a team not called the Los Angeles Dodgers, a lot of emotions we’re swirling — we had lost our loveable Korean Monster.

If there is one element that has distinguished the Dodgers franchise compared to others, it is their ahead-of-the-curve embrace of racial and ethnic diversity on the field. The most obvious is Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe blazing a trail for black players right through the color barrier. In the 1990s, Hideo Nomo inched open the door for Japanese players that Masanori Murakami unlocked with San Francisco in the ‘60s, thus setting the stage for Ichiro Suzuki to blow it off its hinges in 2001. 

An overlooked area where the Dodgers have been trailblazers has been for Korean pitchers. They can lay claim to the very first, Chan Ho Park, who toed the rubber in Los Angeles from 1994 to his All-Star season in 2001. Park was stellar, but in 2012, the team acquired an even better Korean ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu. 

As I’ve mentioned before, 2013 was the season that rekindled my dormant passion for the Dodgers. It was the year Yasiel Puig barreled onto the scene with his cannon arm and muscular bat, and Clayton Kershaw continued his skyrocketing ascent as the best pitcher of the decade. Yet the player that earned my greatest affection was the portly Incheon native. It wasn’t just because he was a brilliant pitcher; it was just as much for his unique affability, one that made his diversification of the team all the sweeter. 

While Park was intense, Ryu was the polar opposite. Far from drop kicking an opposing player, his persona was cuddly and adorable, best embodied by his language barrier-defying, cross-cultural bromance with Puig. His visibility as a Dodgers star intersected with the influx of Korean culture in the U.S. this decade, with visits from K-Pop stars like Psy and Yoongi: 

Not surprisingly, Ryu himself became a star in his homeland. He used that fame to try his hand at music, of course. He married broadcaster Bae Jihyeon. Best of all, though, were the noodle commercials. What a joy those noodle commercials were. 

The only stain on Ryu’s legacy in Los Angeles was, obviously, his frequent injuries. Every pitcher, Kershaw included, has to contend with the limitations of an injured list stint here or there. But after his breakout seasons in 2013 and 2014, Ryu missed all of 2015 and pitched just once in 2016 due to elbow and shoulder injuries. (To be honest, I borderline forgot he existed during this stretch.) He was more visible in 2017, but didn’t pitch well enough to make a playoff roster loaded with four starting aces and a deep bullpen. 

Yet it was also his propensity for injury that set the stage for one of the greatest (and most overlooked) Dodger stories of the decade. In 2018, Ryu suffered his most brutal injury yet: a groin injury in May that tore the muscle right off the bone. He went to the 60-day injured list, seemingly unlikely to return. 

Yet somehow, he was able to overcome it and return in August, boosting the team down the stretch as they barely won the NL West. He finished the season with a 1.97 ERA, and went on to become the first Korean pitcher to start a World Series game. 

In 2019, he finally turned those glimpses of dominance into a full season that almost earned him a Cy Young Award. While he would lose out on that honor to Jacob deGrom, he did at least get his first All-Star selection. And deservedly so, with an MLB-best 2.32 ERA and walks-per-nine innings ratio (1.183). He even managed to sustain one of the longest scoreless inning streaks in franchise history. 

It’s tempting to call Ryu’s departure the end of an era, and in many ways it is. With his signing elsewhere, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen are now the only players left from the 2013 team, for one. Of course, the actual ending of this current era of Dodger baseball is far from over. But one day, when it is and it’s being written about as a concluded era of history, there is a good chance Hyun-Jin Ryu will be reduced to a supporting player whose memory is crowded out by bigger names. (Think Jim Gilliam as opposed to Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills in the ‘60s.) 

Yet that would be a shame. At his healthiest, Ryu was elite, a reality he unfortunately didn’t illustrate to the highest degree until his final season in Dodger blue. He helped solidify a rotation that deepened the franchise’s already extensive prestige in starting pitching. Perhaps more importantly, he was a buoyant cultural envoy for the franchise, one whose appeal was widespread. 

Best of luck to you in your Canadian endeavors, Hyun-Jin. Stay healthy, chow down on those noodles, and continue to make a team blad in blue and white proud. Since you’re in Toronto now, though, you might want to add these guys alongside K-Pop to your playlist. One of them will be watching you from behind home plate almost every home game!

NEXT: Former Dodgers Star Adrián Gonzalez Talks Relationship with Yasiel Puig

Written by Marshall Garvey

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  1. Very well written Marshall. As a Dodger fan, I am deeply sad to see Hyun Jin leaving the Big Blue nation. Many thanks to Hyun Jin for being a great Dodger over past 6 years. It was indeed one of my biggest joy to watch him pitching in Dodger Blue! He will be missed. Best of luck in Toronto!

    • Thank you so much! I’ll miss him too, even though it might be right to let him walk, I hope he excels in Toronto with the bats of all those legacy kids to help him out.

    • Ryu has a career ERA of 2.98. Better than Cole, Scherzher, Verlander, Grienke, Strausberg, and the lost goes on.

      The difference is he was never considered the ace of his team and he was a finess pitcher.

      He dominated last year with a crazy 2.32 ERA. The man can pitch when healthy! Ale

      • Excuse me, you’re comparing Ryu with all those pitchers you named? Man, talk about cherry picking a statistic. You may want to look at meaningless little things like innings pitched, games won, games started, World Series rings and Cy Youngs. Two and maybe more of those guys are headed to the Hall of Fame.

        • Cherry picking stats? I would say so if he dueled against tier 4 or 5 pitchers and won. However Ryu dueled against and beat aces if not tier 1 such as Zach Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Max Fried, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg, and David Price. If that was not enough Ryu also dueled against DeGrom in the later part of this season and pitched the game went on as a tie until both had to step down. You cannot deny Ryu was phenomenal this year.

  2. Yeah, they’ll now go with budget pitchers like Ross Stripling.
    Ryu was the best pitcher they had. As long as they continue to draw 4 million fans and have that television contract, they consider that being successful. They
    Don’t care about the average fan who wants a championship.

    • Unfortunately true. I only wanted Ryu back on 3 years or less, but barring a trade for Clevinger (and perhaps Boston dumping Price or Sale on us too) the rotation is at risk of taking a step back in 2020. Absolutely inexcusable.

  3. Let’s have a reality check before getting all misty-eyed and nostalgic. Ryu was barely an ok pitcher. You say elite. Hardly. He gave us one – 1 – good year (2019). Poor physical conditioning and never ending injuries is what I recall most. If it was going to take a 4 year deal to keep him, thank goodness we let him walk. I’d be surprised if the Jays get 2 years from him and playing in those AL East homer-domes? Good luck with that.There was no “Ryu” era as an era is defined by a player leaving a positive indelible mark on a franchise. Ryu was merely a guy who pitched for the Dodgers for a few years.

    • I 100% agree about letting him walk. I only wanted him on 3 years or less. His injuries no doubt limited his legacy, but when he was healthy he did provide a lot of value to a bunch of the teams of this era. He’ll never be remembered like Kershaw, Greinke or Buehler, but he had a unique place that deserves recognition.

  4. Thank you for a stellar 2019 and the memories. You represented Koreans with class and grace. It saddens me that you and your buddy Puig will not be part of the Dodgers when we win a ring again. However, we won’t forget you and will look back fondly on your triumphs as a Dodger and will root for your success as a Blue Jay!

  5. If only we would have canned Robert’s after the 17 season things would have been different a world series ring or 2 and a Cy young for Ryu!

  6. Don is salty because hes a fucking racist. So much pathetic effort in trying to paint Ryu as an average pitcher or worse on an article saying goodbye and thank you to him. What a miserable sack of shit you are donny.

  7. this idiot (Friedman)can’t keep his own players and his next big move is deprice from the red sox

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