Korea’s manager rips 3 veterans who leave Asian Games team
On Sept. 4, the Korean Baseball Organization announced its 22-man roster for the Asian Games, consisting of nine pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders. It’s a much younger unit than the one that reached the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in March.
There are only eight carryovers from the WBC team, and none of the major leaguers, including emerging outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, Choo Shin-soo, were selected. First baseman Lee Seung-yeop of the Yomiuri Giants, who’s leading Japanese baseball with 39 home runs, was left off the team for what national team officials called “personal matters.”
But youth is perhaps the least of concerns for the manager, Kim Jae-park.
Within just a few days of the announcement of the roster, three veterans from the WBC unit said they would not play for the country at the Asian Games.
The day after the announcement, the Doosan Bears third baseman Kim Dong-joo was the first to bow out, citing lingering pain in his left shoulder that he injured while sliding headfirst into first base at the World Baseball Classic. The injury kept him out of league play until early August. Catcher Hong Sung-heun, Kim’s teammate on the Bears, was next, as he is awaiting an offseason operation on a broken bone in his left ankle.
Then Koo Dae-sung, closer for the Hanwha Eagles, notified the national team management last Friday that his back pain would not allow him to pitch at his best and “would only hurt the team.”
The officials have until this Friday to name three alternates to fill out the 22-man roster to be submitted to the Korean Olympic Committee. Then the KOC has until Oct. 1 to hand in the roster to the Doha Asian Games Organizing Committee. After that, teams can’t alter their rosters for any reason other than players’ injuries.
In the meantime, manager Kim Jae-park lashed out.
“We can’t afford to drag players who don’t want to play, nor should we,” Kim told the media last Wednesday before his Hyundai Unicorns took on the SK Wyverns in Incheon. “We have a ton of players who are dying to play for the national squad but weren’t picked.”
If the team wins the gold medal, the players will be exempted from military service.
The outspoken manager, considered the nation’s best shortstop in his playing days in the 1980s, criticized the way the national baseball teams are selected.
Team officials “are basically held hostage to the players,” he said. “Why did the KBO have to ask players if they wanted to play for the national team? Do we have to beg them to play? I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The manager was especially harsh on Kim Dong-joo, saying, “He said earlier that if he was picked, then he would play no matter what. Well, we have other third basemen that we can insert in his place.”
The loss of Koo could prove to be the biggest blow. He and the Lotte Giants’ Son Min-han were the only 30-somethings from the otherwise young pitching staff. Manager Kim specifically said at the announcement of the team, “Koo was picked to be the leader for our inexperienced players.”
Without the left-handed Koo, the national team has only two southpaws, Lee Hei-chun of the Bears and Chang Won-sam of the Unicorns. Both are starters with their clubs; Chang is a rookie.
“As far as I am concerned, whoever’s playing in the league now is fit and healthy enough to play for the national team,” Kim told the press on Friday in Seoul.
For his part, Kim has left himself open to criticism over the roster.
The absence of the outfielder Choo raised eyebrows. Through Monday, Choo, the only Korean position player in the majors this year, was batting .280 on the season in 36 games.
But even before the final roster was set, manager Kim repeatedly claimed there were players in the Korean league as good as or better than Choo, and that the 24-year-old was an unproven commodity.
After the roster announcement, Kim bristled at a reporter’s inquiry about Choo’s non-selection, saying, “I’ve already said my reasons [for not picking Choo] hundreds of times. We’re not considering picking Choo for this team.”
The day after his absence was made official, Choo went 2-for-3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and 3-for-5 with two runs scored the next day.
Then there’s the question of his backup utility infielder.
Samsung Lions’ shortstop Park Jin-man, who didn’t commit an error in seven WBC games, and the Wyverns’ utility man, Jeung Keun-woo, who can also play third base and all outfield positions, will likely be the starters.
Kim passed over reigning Golden Glove shortstop Son Si-hun of the Bears in favor of the Lotte Giants’ Park Ki-hyuk. Kim explained, “We can put Park at either shortstop and second base, and also use him as a pinch runner.” Park has six steals on the year.
Despite the controversy, manager Kim said he will not worry about the missing pieces.
“None of the issues [surrounding the roster] will affect our team, and there’s plenty of time left until the Asian Games,” he said on Friday. “What’s more important is how we’re doing at our first practice [in mid-November]. I think we have enough talent to win the gold medal.”
by Yoo Jee-ho