Choo Shin-soo (40), an outfielder from the 안전놀이터 major leagues of SSG Landers, sparked a story. Choo Shin-soo, who is staying in the U.S. during the professional baseball off-season, appeared on a Dallas Korean broadcast on January 21st and mentioned the selection of the national team for the World Baseball Classic (WBC). He insisted that the national team should have selected more young prospects rather than prioritizing immediate results, and that they “show their face (in international competitions) and create opportunities to go abroad is the job of Korean baseball.”
The WBC is a stage comparable to the FIFA World Cup in soccer. So, you need to build the best team. The criterion for selecting a national team should not be that foreign professional baseball teams, which pay more than their home leagues, should be given the opportunity to be scouted.
The mention of fastball pitcher An Woo-jin (Kiwoom), who was not selected due to school violence in high school, was serious. Choo Shin-soo said, “It seems that it is not easy for South Korea to forgive.” Ahn Woo-jin’s elimination was “unreasonable,” and he said, “baseball seniors have to take off their feet.” Who other than the victim could ‘forgive’ An Woo-jin?
Choo Shin-soo said, “Go abroad and play Korean baseball… In a way, I heard that he had the talent to become the second best player after Park Chan-ho. In the end, it is because Ahn Woo-jin is good at baseball. So Choo Shin-soo’s remarks lead to the meaning that ‘if only baseball is good’, even if you are not a complete pitcher, you should be selected for the national team and enjoy the opportunity to advance overseas, and even if you are a perpetrator of school violence, seniors should have stepped up and prevented you from dropping out of the national team.
It is difficult to blame Shin-soo Choo alone. It is not uncommon for former and current players to think like that. Many players have grown up in an environment where they can only play baseball well since school days. The various absurdities that occur in school sports clubs, including violence, are justified in this way. In a survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2020 for college athletes, more than 20% of the respondents said that “sports violence is inevitable to improve athletic ability and win.”
However, the answer, ‘you only need to be good at baseball’, does not convince fans who love baseball. As a reporter, I mainly covered baseball, but I also met players and officials in other sports. All in all, he had a bad feeling about baseball. He heard from many people that “Baseball is a game, not a sport.” Beneath the belittlement was envy for baseball.
Baseball has long been the most popular sport in Korea. There is no way that ‘baseball DNA’ is engraved in Koreans. Coincidence or non-sports reasons played a large role in the status of Korean baseball.
Korean baseball officially began in 1904, during the Korean Empire, when American missionary Philip Gillette founded the Hwangseong YMCA baseball team. Full-fledged development was made when baseball was included in the curriculum during the Japanese colonial period. Baseball was the most popular sport in Japan at the time, and it also influenced colonial Joseon. In the magazine Gaebyeok published in November 1920, baseball was introduced as the most popular team ball game at the time. Joseon baseball was initially operated separately from Japanese baseball in Jaejosun. However, after the 1930s, it was actually incorporated as a part of Japanese baseball.
Baseball has resonated with the times
Unlike football, which overwhelmed the Japanese team of this era, baseball was inferior. Deficiency led to longing. Most of the secondary schools attended by Japanese students ran baseball teams. After liberation, these schools were reorganized into prestigious high schools in the fledgling Republic of Korea. Korean students who regained their country became baseball team players. The most important sport for the new prestigious high schools was baseball.
Korean baseball took off in the 1970s with the popularity of high school baseball soaring. In the 1970s, a rapid migration to the village occurred. In 1960, the population of Seoul was 2.45 million, but in 1976 it increased to 7.25 million. For migrants living in Seoul, the hardships of living in Seoul have become an important part of their lives at the local high school team games held at the Seoul Stadium baseball field at the time.
Professional baseball, launched in 1982, inherits the popularity of high school baseball in the 1970s. The launch of professional baseball cannot be separated from the policy of depopulating the 5th Republic. However, it was also the result of the ‘liberalization policy’ that was distinguished from the oppressive Yusin era. On the other hand, for the people who began to enjoy economic growth and improved educational standards, professional baseball, which is popular in the United States and Japan, was a symbol of ‘advanced countries’. It is symbolic that Park Chan-ho’s debut in the major leagues in 1994 was two years before Korea joined the OECD, an advanced country club. The Korean economic growth model collapsed in 1997 with the Asian financial crisis. The pitching of Park Chan-ho, who made his major league debut in earnest, was a great encouragement to the people who were going through hardships.
In this way, baseball has resonated with the times. So it must have become the most popular sport in Korea. School violence is now one of the most important issues in Korean society and the sports world. It is in the same context that seniors Shin-soo Choo, who participated in the WBC technical committee, eventually decided not to select Woo-jin Ahn. It is Choo Shin-soo’s short-sightedness that dismissed this as “unreasonable.”
Choo Shin-soo said, “I play baseball in Korea, but there are so many things I don’t understand.” However, the Major League, where he played 16 seasons, is no different in that it reflects social changes and changed values in player discipline.
In 1987, Al Campanis, a talented general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared on the ABC news program <Nightline> and was asked, “Why are there so few black managers, general managers, or presidents in the major leagues?” He caused controversy by replying, “Black people have poor decision-making ability,” and was fired two days later. It is in the same context that the major leagues have strengthened discipline for domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse since 2015.