Comment of the Day: Shin-Soo Choo's plight is no laughing matter

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Ron Rollins is probably my oldest commenter, having now followed me to three different blogs in the past three years.  He’s a baseball blogger himself. We often disagree with one another — he doesn’t much go for the steroids and other trivia in which I often delve, and his threshold for sabermetrics is not as high as my own — but when he talks I always listen because there’s 0% bullshit about the guy.  Oh, and he’s retired from a military career that took him all over the world, and unlike a lot of soldiers, he paid attention and learned an awful lot about the local culture wherever he was. Between him and Old Gator, I get the feeling I could get a recommendation for a great restaurant on six continents.

Anyway, Ron weighed in on the Shin-Soo Choo post this morning, and it’s definitely worth a read:

A lot of people are laughing about this, but it really isn’t funny. It’s the law in South Korea, and people take it seriously.

Remember, they are still in a state of war, and there are live fire incidencens in the DMZ on a regular basis. The North Korean army is the 4th largest in the world, and 75% of it is on the South Korean border.

The South Korean people revere their military. They have television shows specifically for their soldiers, and not serving is a serious crime.

Choo could face jail time, or loss of his citizenship. Which means he can never go home. And just because that might happen doesn’t mean he’s free and clear. If he loses citizenship, where does he go? That situation doesn’t qualify for political asylum. He becomes a man without a country.

How would you guys feel if you were stripped of citizenship while in a different country, faced certain jail time, and knew you could never visit home again to visit your family?

If you’re a Democrat, remember all the fuss you kicked up about Dan Quayle and George Bush getting out of Vietnam because of political influence? If you’re a Republican, remember all the fuss you kicked up becaus Bill Clinton protested and stood by while the flag was burned? That’s nothing compared to what Choo will face at home.

There is zero tolerance with serving in South Korea. The speaker of the House of Representatives had twin sons who were attending the most prestigious university in the country. It was front page news they day they were inducted.

The government decided to award an exemption to athletes for a gold medal performance, because supposedly that brings glory to the country. No one remembers silver or bronze athletes. It sounds like a nice idea, but it isn’t exactly the most populare idea among military age males in South Korea, who don’t have the ability to play sports at a high level.

Roger Staubach and Willie Mays did their duty. Ted Williams did it twice. You guys might think it’s a joke, but I’ll bet you Choo doesn’t.

I thought of it as a jokeworthy story this morning, but after reading Ron’s comment, I can’t help but wonder if this situation will weigh on Choo this season.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.