Korea’s top hitter is in ‘retirement season’.

“Choi Jung, Kim Kwang-hyun won’t play baseball for the rest of his life”

SSG Landers outfielder Choo Shin-soo, 42, will end his 24-year professional career at the end of this season. It’s a farewell season that deserves to be celebrated by all. In fact, he’s been called the best hitter in Korean baseball, and he’s willing to accept a season-long stint in the second team.

Choo Shin-soo met with reporters at the Incheon SSG Landers Field on the 3rd and said, “The reason I said I would play one more year is not because I am greedy for personal achievements. I want to help the team’s direction and plans, and I don’t think it’s fair if I don’t get the opportunity someone deserves by extending my playing career for another year. I’m just going to go down (to the second team) and do my job.”

The story began on March 14, when Shin-Soo Choo released a press release about his retirement season, including his intention to join the Future team. The announcement was unconventional in many ways. Not only did he announce that he would retire after the 2024 season, reducing his salary from 1.7 billion won to the lowest salary level of 30 million won, but he also announced his intention to donate all of it.

Most uniquely, a player of his stature to announce his retirement season in a separate press release explaining his plans for the final year of his career mentioned second base. At the time, Choo Shin-soo said through the club, “During the offseason, my family and I thought about it a lot. Every time I did, I saw SSG, the fans’ support, and most importantly, the junior players in front of me. I felt that I loved baseball and the team so much that I thought about my future with the club.” “The club and the new manager (Lee Sung-yong) needed me and respected my opinion. Next year, I want to contribute to the team by sharing my experiences and thoughts while training with the junior players in the Future Team at any time, depending on the team’s situation.”

Shin-Soo Choo is considered the best hitter in Korean baseball. A graduate of Busan Suyeongcho, Busan Jungbu, and Busan High, he joined the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball (ML) as an international signing in 2000. He debuted in the big leagues in 2005 and went on to play for the Cleveland Indians (now the Cleveland Cavaliers), Cincinnati Reds, and Texas Rangers, compiling a career batting average of .275 with 218 home runs, 782 RBI, 961 runs scored, 157 stolen bases, a .377 on-base percentage, and a .447 slugging percentage in 1652 games. He signed a massive seven-year, $130 million contract when he joined Texas, making him the only one of the “Park Chan Ho Kids” who went straight from high school to the major leagues in the early 2000s to have a successful career.

He returned to Korean baseball in 2021 with SSG, where he made his presence felt both on and off the field. Off the field, he showed his love for Korean baseball by actively donating to the game while soberly pointing out its needs. On the field, he showed his age-defying eye for the ball, leading SSG to a wire-to-wire regular season title and a Korean Series title in 2022. Last year alone, he still showed off his utility value with a .254 batting average, 12 home runs, 41 RBI, 65 runs scored, six doubles, a .379 on-base percentage, and a .398 slugging percentage in 112 games. At 16th in the league and third on the team in slugging percentage, Choo was good enough to stay on the first team.

However, Choo Shin-soo looked a little further into the future. “Players like Choi Jeong, Kim Kwang-hyun, and Han Yoo-seom won’t be playing baseball forever. At some point, someone has to take their place and they have to compete with each other. For SSG to be a strong team, the senior players need to have a certain amount of anxiety that they could lose their positions, and the younger players need to have hope (that they can move up if they are good enough). Only when the bench is strong can the team perform consistently throughout the year.”

Good communication between seniors and juniors is essential in this process. That’s why Choo Shin-soo thought long and hard about accepting the captaincy from Lee Seung-yong. “I want to be a more communicative captain, and I want to tell the players, ‘If you have a problem, tell me quickly.’ I don’t want them to be afraid to speak up because of the age difference, whether it’s right or wrong. The words that come out of a younger player’s mouth might be the answer. I want to be the first step in creating a culture that is on the right path and that will allow us to be a strong team. That way, those who come after me will see it and follow suit. I don’t know if it will work or not, but I want to create a culture where people feel comfortable talking about it.”

Of course, he doesn’t intend to let go of his starting position anytime soon, as he wants to see natural generational change and competition. After spending about three weeks in Korea with his family, Choo will return to the United States on April 4 to begin preparations for the 2024 season in earnest. Around the 10th, teammates and juniors Park Jong-hoon and Ha Jae-hoon will also travel to the United States to train with him. “The coach decides when I play, but I prepare to play every game,” said Choo. The goal is of course to win the championship. I’m not preparing for second place. We’re an older team, so I think we can do well for a year if the veterans take care of their bodies in the beginning.”

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