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[Inside the KBO]After jail and surgery, Cho refuses to quit

May 06,2008
Samsung’s Cho Jin-ho, a former Boston Red Sox pitcher, picked up his first win in more than four years Sunday in a 4-2 triumph over the Hanwha Eagles. Provided by Samsung Lions
Trivia question of the week — who is the second Korean to play baseball in the Major League?
Answer: Cho Jin-ho, a 32-year-old right-handed pitcher.
It’s a trick question because hardly anyone remembers who does anything second. And Cho’s time in the big league was so short and forgettable that you would be hard-pressed to call it a career — he pitched in 13 games for the Boston Red Sox from 1998 to 1999, posting a 2-6 win-loss record with a 6.52 earned run average in 58 innings.
That same Cho Jin-ho, he of a difficult past (more on this later), won a game in Korea yesterday as a starter for the Samsung Lions, who defeated the Hanwha Eagles 4-2. It was his first win anywhere in more than four years and Cho’s story is one of an improbable comeback.
To be honest, I almost forgot Cho was still in baseball until last weekend.
Cho returned to Korea to pitch for the SK Wyverns in 2003 but was a huge disappointment, going 4-5 with a 5.20 ERA in 19 games. But the worst was yet to come.
In 2004, Cho was implicated in a military-dodging scandal that involved several other professional athletes. After admitting to doctoring his urine test results for 50 million won ($49,446) in cash to dodge the service, Cho spent eight months in prison and had to serve 26 months of non-combat, alternative service afterward.
And Cho underwent Tommy John (elbow reconstructive) surgery during his service. When the Lions signed him last fall, they didn’t even offer him a signing bonus. His salary is 50 million won while some veterans his age receive five times as much.
Cho started the 2008 season in the minors and looked almost done, going 0-3 in four starts with a 7.20 ERA. But the Lions called him up anyway because in the midst of a nine-day, nine-game stretch, they needed an extra arm, especially with starter Bae Young-soo battling pain in his pitching hand and with another pitcher, Jun Byung-ho, having been demoted to the minors.
Cynics may say Cho can thank the schedule makers. But give him credit — he capitalized on the one chance he got.
The Eagles entered the game with a KBO-best 31 homers. Their four bombers — Doug Clark, Kim Tae-kyun, Kim Tae-wan and Lee Beom-ho — rank in the KBO’s top five for homers. But Cho shut down the entire lineup for six innings, giving up just four hits with no walks.
Though his fastball only clocked 144 kilometers per hour (89 miles per hour), Cho’s slider and changeup were effective enough to foil the Eagles.
Cho admitted after the game he was still shivering with excitement.
“I don’t think I ever shook this much in the majors,” Cho told reporters. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. I am glad I got this one over with. I was confident with all my pitches.
“The words ‘give up’ never entered my mind,” Cho continued. “I missed the crowd noise at a packed ballpark.”
Cho said he didn’t tell his family or friends about his start because “I didn’t want all of them watching. I didn’t need that added pressure.”
While researching this story, I came across an interview Cho did last October with a local weekly paper. Regarding his elbow operation, Cho said, “I wouldn’t have gone under the knife if I ever thought about quitting baseball. I was on my own in rehab and it was pretty difficult. But I wanted to prove to people that I could still be a baseball player.”
One game does not mean a full comeback, though Cho could get another start during this nine-game stretch. But for me, Cho doesn’t have to win another game. He’s already proven he’s a gamer.


By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter[jeeho@joongang.co.kr]


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