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Shin-Soo Choo might have to join the army

Feb 23, 2010, 8:28 AM EDT

What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded
on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are
dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans
are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There
are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely
so many counties can’t all be worth dying for

Able-bodied South Korean men must serve two years in the military by
the time they turn 30 years old. For the 27-year-old Choo, who turns 28
in July, that deadline is coming up quick.

Choo spent his entire life preparing to become a professional
baseball player, and he refuses to walk away from the game at a point
where he should be entering his prime. He is hoping to get clearance
from the Indians to participate on the South Korean baseball team in
the 2010 Asian Games, which take place in November. If he does, and his
team wins a gold medal, Choo would receive an exemption from the South
Korean government . . . But what if Choo doesn’t get that clearance or the Korean team doesn’t win the gold?

I know that famous people are often exempted from compulsory military service, but having to serve (or not) based on winning the Asian Games seems even more arbitrary than the fame game itself. Of course, a rule that says “win a gold and you’re cool, win a silver and you’re cannon-fodder,” is certainly an effective motivator for winning those Asian games, so kudos to the guy who came up with that one.

According to the article, however, Choo has “a backup plan” for dealing with his military obligation. He won’t yet say what it is.  I can only assume the obvious until told otherwise.

  1. Clyde - Feb 23, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    As an American who has lived in Korea for six years and a big baseball fan, I have followed Choo’s career closely. First, Choo is not a rock star in Korea. there are at least 20 other athletes who have greater name recognition, his games are not broadcast here, and little is written about him. Second, innumerable atheletes have been granted military exceptions over the last tem years including all gold medal winners and I believe all members of the national soccer team, certainly all those in the 2002 World Cup. Third, people can opt out of the military service and do community work, albeit for six months or a year longer.
    Choo has opened a baseball academy here and it seems his military service would be a detriment to the country. As one of the 100 best baseball players in the world it seems his career derailment is particularly tough compared with all the other athletes given exemptions. He may not be wildly popular yet, but baseball is going through a huge resurgence here and he’s the best player to ever come out of this country.
    I suspect something will be worked out with the government, but I would guess the back up plan would be U.S. citizenship, which is a loss for Korea.
    As an aside, check out his half season in 2008, that was his breakout year. If he captures that form again he’s an all star.

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