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Shin-Soo Choo hoping to avoid military service by playing for South Korea in Asian Games

Sep 7, 2010, 5:18 PM EDT

Shin-Soo Choo has established himself as one of the best all-around outfielders in the league over the past three seasons, but his two-year obligation to the South Korean military has lingered in the background as a potential complication.
And now he’ll try to play his way out of the military.
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com reports that Choo is on South Korea’s official 24-man roster for the upcoming Asian Games and speculates that he “would likely receive an exemption from the South Korean military … if Cho’s team is able to capture the gold medal.”
Choo is 28 years old and according to Castrovince “all able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the end of their 30th year,” so without that exemption the Indians could be facing life without their right fielder.
Choo has said previously that he has no intention of serving the two-year term while in the prime of his career and Castrovince writes that “a last-ditch option would be to simply not return to South Korea and begin the process of becoming an American citizen.”
Before that happens he’ll try to help South Korea win the Asian Games, which is an 11-team tournament held in China two months from now. Assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said the Indians would support Choo’s decision to play “provided there’s not an injury or a workload concern.”

  1. Reflex - Sep 7, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    Quite frankly, given South Korea’s situation with a hostile nation on their border with one of the largest standing armies in the world and a crazy man with his hands on the nuclear button running it, I’m having difficulty respecting Choo for this if the reports are correct. Few *want* to serve, I certainly do not want to take two years out of the prime of my life, however you bet your ass if Canadia or Mexico were run by crazy dictators with nuclear weapons and huge standing armies I’d do my time without complaint and be happy for the training in case the worse came to pass.
    Its not an issue of patriotism or flag waving or anything else. For South Korea its simply a matter of survival. And Choo appears to be saying that his personal career and fortune is worth more than the lives of his family, friends and countrymen.

  2. ThatGuy - Sep 7, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    While your right that he should do his time, likewise S. Korea should work with him. As arguably the best Korean MLBer right now, S. Korea should probably work with him and work out some sort of deal. Maybe 4 years of P.R./recruiting in the off season or something so he can still play. Other militaries have done the same thing.

  3. Reflex - Sep 7, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    Other militaries typically do not have such a hostile neighbor on their border. I think the best possible PR he could give the military, assuming they need such a thing since service is mandatory, would be to serve his time with a smile and a gracious attitude since the South Korean army is the only thing that stands between him and a life in a rice paddy instead of a lucrative career as a professional athlete.
    I’ve never felt actors, atheletes and celebrities should get prefferential treatment. Serving in the military is not some onerous burden imposed on the people of SK, its a necessary condition for the nation’s very survival.

  4. D-Luxxx - Sep 7, 2010 at 10:28 PM

    Considering that I don’t know of any other actors, celebrities or atheletes from South Korea seeking preferential treatment, I would say that your feelings towards them seems to be new found. I don’t blame Choo for not wanting to serve. Yes, North Korea is dangerous. Yes, war could break out at any time. Do you think Choo’s value as a single soldier outweighs his value as an unofficial ambassador of goodwill? Do you think that South Korea really values him as a soldier if they are willing to let him opt out if they win a baseball tournament? I think the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “No.”

  5. Chipmaker - Sep 8, 2010 at 2:14 AM

    Chan Ho Park led the SK team to the gold at the 1998 Asian Games and received the military exemption. So there’s precedent.

  6. Reflex - Sep 8, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    1) I can’t speak for SK celebrities myself, but we certainly have plenty of examples of prefferential treatment in our country. My statement was in general, I don’t appreciate it here, and I don’t see why it should be any different for him.
    2) Does any individual’s value as a single soldier outweigh their value doing any of a number of other possibilities? Of course not. But collectively the value is very high. Survival level even. Furthermore, if he can opt out because he’s an athlete, then why not those going into politics? Isn’t thier value as policymakers far more than any of their individual value as soldiers? What about teachers? Doctors? Why stop with a baseball player? Should exemptions to military service be based on celebrity or popularity?
    3) The exemption for winning the tournament is a long standing tradition and it has happened only a few times. I certainly will not begrudge Choo should he get out via that method, that is the prize for the tournament. Its his attitude that bothers me, the idea that he would literally change nations simply to escape his duty to his countrymen.
    This is a matter of survival for his nation. Cults of celebrity should not define who serves, the system should be fair to all. And it is fair to all. But some wish to shirk their duty, going to the extreme of disowning their own nation in order to do it.
    If he follows through with this I hope he can never show his face in SK without shame.

  7. D-Luxxx - Sep 8, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    I guess the agrument against politicians, teachers and doctors is that serving two years before they are 30 would have minimum impact on their earning potential and careers. Those are long lived professions that don’t rely on strenuous physical ability to earn a paycheck. The difference with an athlete is that those years are typically (as Aaron said above) in the prime of their careers. Basically the argument is why does he have to do this now? As an athlete, one could argue that he’d still be just as fit as his younger military brethren if he where to serve his two years after his career is over. I don’t think the argument Choo is making is that he doesn’t want to serve at all, but just not in his prime.

  8. Reflex - Sep 8, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    He had the choice to do this when he was younger. He delayed it. His countrymen, including athletes have all served without complaints. Yes it will give him a hit on his earnings, but its a hit every other person in South Korea takes, and the amounts are irrelevant in that they are all a lot for any person in their prime when they are building their career, regardless of what that career may be. The amount of money earned is meaningless to the discussion. Pop stars also earn most of thier money in their 20’s in South Korea, yet they serve without complaint, its simply expected.
    And I will repeat that this situation seems excusable to americans because we do not have the experience in recent memory of having a large, aggressive hostile nation with nuclear weapons right on our border. If you lived in SK, I have a feeling you would feel very very different.

  9. D-Luxxx - Sep 8, 2010 at 10:58 PM

    Oh, I’m sorry, you mean he should have taken time off when he was competing with the other young athletes to work his way to the top of the heap? I’m assuming you’re a sports fan, and not an athlete. Two years off is quite a bit at any point in your early development. The guy signed a contract as an 18 year old, so doing it earlier in his career would have had to been either when he was trying to work his way up in the minors, or once he started to play in the majors. The fact that he’s considered a 5 tool player (he was a top pitcher before being moved to the OF actually) and it took him 5 years to make it to the majors tells me that had he served earlier in his career, he may still be in the minors (or never have played at all). As a former infantryman, I have no issues with him saying he doesn’t want to serve. Sometimes you just have to realize that some people are better than others. He worked had to be where he is, and if I where in his situation and I couldn’t get out of my service time age requirement, I guess I’d defect.

  10. Reflex - Sep 9, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    Of course you have no issue with him not wanting to serve. You had the *choice* to serve, a choice you had because there was no aggressive neighbor threatening US liberty. South Korea does not have that luxury.
    Once again, yes, I know he would have had to take the two years off at some point. But others have done so. He could have done it at 18, gotten it out of the way, played college ball and worked his way up. But thats all besides the point. The point is that its a burden that all SK men bear, including thier atheletes regardless of how rich or famous they are. There has been no compelling argument for why a special exception should be made for Choo.

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