SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court on Thursday upheld a suspended prison sentence for Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang over a drunken driving conviction, a ruling that may complicate his plans to rejoin the National League baseball team this season.
The Seoul Central District Court dismissed Kang's appeal of a suspended two-year prison sentence over charges of fleeing the scene after crashing a car into the guardrail while driving drunk, a court official said. The court official didn't want to be named, citing office rules.
Kang had sought to lower the punishment to a fine. His lawyers have called the suspended prison term issued in March as a potential "death sentence" to his career, blaming it for visa issues that have prevented him from rejoining the Pirates. The team weeks later put Kang on the restricted list as visa issues continued to delay him.
The court on Thursday said that the suspended prison term was "rational" because there wasn't much room for leniency — Kang was previously fined on drunk driving-related charges in 2009 and 2011. The court also said it was unclear the United States was refusing to issue a work visa to Kang specifically because of the suspended prison sentence, according to the official.
Kang's lawyers weren't immediately able to be reached for comment.
Kang had 21 home runs and 62 RBIs in 103 games in 2016 during his second season in the majors. He is in the third year of a four-year, $11 million contract he signed with Pittsburgh in 2015 after a stellar eight-year career in South Korean professional baseball.
According to police, Kang didn't stop after driving a rented BMW into a guardrail at about 3 a.m. while returning to his Seoul hotel in December. The crash damaged the guardrail and the car. Police said Kang's blood alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been 0.08 percent, which is above the country's 0.05 percent legal limit.