Baseball legend Choo Shin-soo is finally coming home
MLB veteran Choo Shin-soo has signed with the as-yet unnamed Emart baseball club, joining the KBO for the first time in his career.
The Incheon club’s new owner Shinsegae Group announced Tuesday that Choo will earn 2.7 billion won ($2.4 million) in annual salary, with the exact length of his contract unconfirmed. Choo, who became a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, says he will donate 1 billion won from his salary.
Emart held the right to sign Choo after the SK Wyverns, the former name of the Incheon club, got the rights to acquire him in a special draft for overseas players held almost 14 years ago on April 2, 2007. It allowed KBO clubs to draft Korean players that had headed overseas straight out of high school, giving them a team to return to if they chose or needed to head back to Korea.
Former MLB, Nippon Professional Baseball and KBO pitcher Kim Byung-hyun was also drafted by the Nexen Heroes under this system, so when he returned to the KBO in 2012 he joined the Heroes for two seasons before moving back to his home town Gwangju and joining the Kia Tigers for the final years of his career.
Choo, who is from Busan, may look to make a similar move to the Lotte Giants in the future, once his contractual obligations in Incheon are complete. Choo has said in the past that he would like to play for the Giants one day, the same team his uncle Park Jeong-tae played for. He has a more fractious relationship with the Incheon side, having in 2012 refused to wear a Wyverns jersey when invited to throw the opening pitch at a Korean Series game in Incheon.
Choo, 38, was the most established Korean playing in the major leagues, having chosen to head straight to the United States rather than first plying his trade in the KBO. Over 16 seasons in the big leagues, he has played for the Seattle Mariners, the Cleveland Indians, the Cincinnati Reds and the Texas Rangers.
Choo joined the Mariners organization in 2000, initially playing in the minor leagues. In 2005, he made his MLB debut with the Mariners but was traded to the Indians in the middle of the 2006 season, immediately entering the major league squad. Choo spent the majority of 2007 in the minor league and struggled with injuries, undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.
He returned to the majors in 2008 and never really looked back, joining the 20-20 club for the first time in 2009 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. In 2011, Choo struggled at the plate and with injuries, but bounced back in 2012, his last season with the Indians.
Choo was traded to the Reds in 2013, becoming the first Korean ever to homer in the postseason during the Wild Card game.
After signing a huge $130-million deal with the Rangers in 2014, Choo ended up batting the worst season of his career. Choo's form improved over the following years, but he was plagued by injuries and ended up missing the 2017 season completely.
It was 2018 that turned out to be Choo's year. By this point a veteran, Choo returned with a vengeance, recording an incredible 52-game, on-base streak, one of the longest in MLB history and a new Rangers record. He was named to the All-Star squad and became the Rangers' Player of the Year.
By 2020, Choo, once an outfielder but now more often the designated hitter, had quietened down a bit. He finished the shorted 2020 season with a .236 batting average with five home runs and 15 runs batted in. The KBO also follows the designated hitter system, although whether Choo will fulfill that role in Incheon is unclear.
Throughout his 16 years in the MLB, Choo has a career batting average of .275 with 1,671 hits, 782 runs batted in and 218 home runs.
He is famously fearless at the plate, and has racked up 152 hits by pitch throughout his career, the second highest of any active player and 23rd highest of all time. His career on-base percentage at .377 puts him on par with some of the biggest names in modern baseball, including Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza.
It is still unclear what jersey Choo will be wearing in Incheon. Emart is yet to announce the name, colors or mascot of the club, although the evidence points toward the SSG Electros, named after e-commerce website SSG.com and electronics store chain Electro Mart.
Shinsegae confirmed on Feb. 1 that they had applied to trademark the name Electros, saying it was a possible contender for the name of the club. At the end of January the company purchased the domain SSGElectros.com, so it looks likely the team's name is decided. The team currently mostly plays in a white kit with red lettering, but this may change to embrace the team's new branding.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]