A Test for South Korea’s Justice System
A case is currently making its way through the South Korean courts regarding former MLB pitcher Scott Richmond and his former team, the KBO’s Lotte Giants. Richmond signed what he and his agent assert was a guaranteed contract for $700,000 before the 2013 season. Richmond tore up his knee early in Spring Training, and the Lotte Giants haven’t paid a won (well less than a penny) of the money they allegedly owe him,
Lotte is claiming that Richmond arrived at Spring Training out of shape, and that’s the reason why they don’t have to pay him for the injury. Whether Richmond gets paid depends on the specific language of his contract and how the South Korean court interprets it. However, in MLB, a player would always get his guaranteed salary in circumstances such as these.
I’ve long been a fan of Richmond simply by virtue of his making the major leagues at all. He started his professional career in his age 25 season in the Independent-A Northern League. He eventually made the majors solely by virtue of the Independent-A leagues, because MLB organizations do not sign amateur players after their age 23 season.
Needless to say, his major league career wasn’t long (although he did stick around long enough to earn an MLB pension), and he never made more than most of the $402,000 minimum salary, on a pro-rated basis, in 2009. Pitching in South Korea was a chance to have an exciting life experience and finally make some real money playing baseball professionally.
According to one report, Lotte’s management underwent a change shortly after Richmond signed his contract, and the new management had no interest in meeting the commitments of the prior management or bringing Richmond back after he had recovered from knee surgery.
Two and a half years later, Richmond’s case is still winding its way through the South Korean court system. According to Richmond, the team offered him his $150,000 signing bonus, which hadn’t been paid, as complete satisfaction of his claim. Not surprisingly, Richmond wanted more, and a lawsuit ensued.
Clearly, Lotte is hoping that the South Korean court will “home town” Richmond and not enforce the contract, or at least grant Richmond well less than the contract amount.
The case has significant implications for KBO teams’ ability to sign foreign players in the future, at least if Richmond gets screwed by a South Korean court. Players from the Americas and Australia play baseball in the Far East for essentially one reason: to make money, more money than they can make playing baseball in the Americas or Australia. If players know they won’t get paid if they get hurt while playing, it will take much bigger contracts to make this additional risk justifiable.
Meanwhile, Richmond, who turns age 36 on August 30th, is back pitching in the Independent-A American Association, where he presumably makes $3,000 a month, after two unsuccessful season in the AAA Pacific Coast League, where he presumable made somewhere between $85,000 and $125,000 a season due to his previous major league experience.
Based on what I know, which is admittedly far from everything, I’m hoping Richmond gets all of his $700,000, although I would expect his South Korean lawyers to take somewhere between a third and a half of that if the case goes to trial.