In honor of today's historic meeting, we look back on the history of America's pastime in the city of Pyongyang. Here is Part 2 of 'A Short History of Baseball in Northern Korea'. Take me out to the Railroad Ballpark!
There are only three things that America will be remembered for 2000 years from now when they study this civilization: The Constitution, Jazz music, and Baseball. These are the three most beautiful things this culture has ever created. - Gerald Early in Ken Burns' documentary Baseball
Cross the street and head south from Pyongyang Station in the direction of the Taedong River, after a few minutes, on your left, you’ll pass a large gray building in socialist style and adorned by the symbol of the North Korean railways. This is Pyongyang’s Railway Museum - the former location of the Pyongyang Railroad Ballpark (평철야구장). You can almost smell peanuts in the air and hear the cheers of the 7th inning stretch.
Following its introduction to Korea in the 1890’s, baseball had become well established across the peninsula by the early 1920’s. Just as Japan was forming its first professional leagues, amateur baseball teams were sprouting up in Korea’s cities among local schools and companies – Korean, Japanese, and American – playing ball from spring till autumn each year in local, regional, and soon overseas matches and tournaments. The city of Pyongyang was no exception.
By the early 1920’s Pyongyang had a multitude of club teams, including the Lion Standard Club (라이은기양구락부), Pyongyang Middle School (평양중학교), the Mutual Friendship Club (호우구락부), the Sugar Mill Company (제당회사), the 77th Regiment (칠칠련대), the Pyongyang Railroad Club (평양철도구라부), and the Commerce and Industry Club (실업구락부) teams. In June 1923 these teams competed in a two-week spring tournament. It is unclear which team emerged victorious.
The Pyongyang Railroad and Pyongyang Commerce and Industry club teams would soon develop into Pyongyang’s main teams facing off with each other and other Korean teams in the West Choson Baseball League. Like New York at the time, Pyongyang was to be a two-team town. The Donga Ilbo records some matches between the two Pyongyang teams in the 1920’s and 30’s.
10 June 1928: Pyongyang Railroad 7 – Pyongyang Commerce and Industry 4
14 June 1931: Pyongyang Commerce and Industry 4 – Pyongyang Railroad 3
08 August 1931: Pyongyang Commerce and Industry 9 – Pyongyang Railroad 3
Presumably there were more than three ‘Pyongyang Playoffs’ while both teams were in existence. The same period marked some other high (and low) points in Pyongyang baseball history.
17 May 1926: Pyongyang Railroad faced off against Pusan in the final game of the Railroad Bureau Championships at Sinyongsan Ballpark in Seoul.
1 October 1927: Pyongyang Foreigners’ Team (평양양인학교) smashed the Seoul-based Kyongso School (경서양인학교) team 17-3.
7 August 1930: Pyongyang Railroad was defeated 6-1 by Tokyo in Japanese Empire’s Intercity Baseball Tournament in Tokyo. The Tokyo team would go on to win the tournament.
These snippets of baseball lore represent on a small portion of all the baseball played in Pyongyang and northern Korea during the colonial era during which the cities of Chongjin, Hamhung, Kaesong, Sinuiju, and Wonsan each fielded numerous teams.
In our next post, we will take a closer look at high school baseball, its place in the modern North Korean imagination, and impact post-1945.
Read Part I of 'A Short History of Baseball in Northern Korea'.