I Hate It When Politics Interferes with Baseball
Actually, I’m being facetious. While I spend a great deal of time writing about baseball, I like to think I realize that baseball is nothing more than pastime, and not one of the great issues of the day.
Anyway, the reason for the title of this post has to do with baseball in South Korea. South Korea’s professional league just took a two week break so that Korean professionals could play mostly against amateurs from other Asian countries in the Asian Games.
Apparently, Korean professional ballplayers are eager to play in and win the Asian Games competition, but those athletes who win a gold medal in these games earn an exemption from the two-year military service requirement that applies to most other young South Korean males due to a law passed back in 1973, when the country was still effectively a dictatorship. Escaping the two years of military service, which almost always must be served during a baseball players career years between 18 and 30, is worth as much as $3.8 million to $7.6 million according to National Team’s manager Ryu Joong-Il, although what I expect he is referring to is the value of elite ballplayers to their teams, rather than salary that would be lost by players good enough to make the National Team.
The purpose of the law, passed when Park Chung-hee was “President” (read military strong-man — South Korea only became a true democracy after his assassination) because Park thought it was important to increase Korea’s prestige on the world stage. That roster spots are highly coveted by those athletes seeking to avoid military service obligations is made clear by the fact that KBO league-leader Seo Geon-chang was passed over for a roster spot in favor of Oh Jae-won, apparently because Seo had already done his military service, and thus couldn’t benefit from the roster spot, while Oh had not yet served and thus could escape the military obligation by playing on a gold medal winning National Team.
The rule only applies to gold medal winners at the Olympics and the Asian games. No other championship gets the same exception. Needless to say, many young South Korean men resent the fact these athletes get an exception no one else enjoys in spite of the fact that the athletes are probably the most physically fit to serve.
I’m sure KBO and it corporate owners fight hard to keep the exemption going since it allows many of their stars to avoid having their professional careers interrupted and allows the KBO to field a better product for its fans.