KBO to stop giving break for Asian Games
The decision by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) hints at the possibility of at least some amateur players joining the national squad for the quadrennial event.
At the recently concluded Asian Games in Jakarta, Korea won its third straight gold medal by defeating a Japanese team composed of amateurs 3-0 in the final.
Baseball joined the Asian Games in 1994, and professionals were allowed to play starting in 1998. Korea has been the only nation to field teams composed almost entirely of professionals at every Asiad since. The next Asian Games will be in Hangzhou, China, in 2022.
At the most recent Asian Games, Korean teams have faced criticism for allowing undeserving players to use the national team as a ticket out of their mandatory military service.
While all healthy Korean men must serve about two years in the armed forces, athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal earn an exemption from conscription.
This year’s team, in particular, was an unpopular champion because of manager Sun Dong-yol’s controversial roster picks. Backup shortstop Oh Ji-hwan, who hadn’t completed his military service when he was selected, became the poster child for problems with Sun’s squad. Oh, who was leading the KBO in errors and strikeouts before the start of the Asian Games, made only three plate appearances as a pinch hitter in Korea’s six games, and batted 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored. Even though Sun had previously insisted he would pick versatile players who could cover multiple positions on the field, the manager still went with Oh, who can only play shortstop.
Disgruntled fans said seldom-used athletes like Oh don’t deserve military exemptions and argued that the KBO should stick to picking the best players possible, regardless of their military status.
“We humbly accept criticism that we received from our fans from the start of our preparations for the Asian Games to the end of the tournament,” the KBO said in a statement. “We will try to strengthen the international competitiveness and foundation of Korean baseball.”
To that end, the KBO, which governs professional baseball, said it will work closely with the Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA) to revise the national team selection rules and process.
If the KBO regular season doesn’t stop for the Asian Games in 2022, it likely means the national team will include a mix of amateurs and young, fringe KBO players whose absences wouldn’t have much bearing on the pennant race.