A .244 batting average is not worth writing to South Korea about, but in the case of Shin-Soo Choo this is a major relief. This below average average is still not good enough, but it beats the .096 he batted the first month of the regular season.
“That was the worst slump of my career,” he told me recently.
His entire career?
“My entire career. I’ve never been in a slump like that,” he said. “My entire baseball career, I’ve never hit like that. Not here, in the minor leagues, not in Korea.”
The Texas Rangers’ outfielder has upped his average since that miserable first month to .244 with eight home runs, 32 RBI, 12 doubles and a .335 on base percentage.
One of the many benefits to living and playing in the United States, other than the chance to dine at a place like Chili’s To Go every night, is the allowance for a major leaguer to play his way out of a slump. That, according to Choo, is a no-no in Korea as well as Japan.
Choo said slumping players in South Korea, and Japan, are supposed to show off how they are trying to tinker and continually change to break out of a bad skid. They are supposed to constantly change to break out of the routine, even if it’s not in the best interest of the player. Like the guy in the office who carries around the clipboard in the effort to look busy, a slumping player in those leagues has to create the appearance they are doing something.
In the U.S., players are more inclined to have the freedom to stick with a consistent routine in an effort to start hitting again.
“Here - it’s, ‘Give it time. Give it an opportunity. Be patient, stay with it,’” he said. “In Korea, they want to see something all the way. Change this, change that. What are you doing to change? Like, in Korea, if the star pitcher has a bad game, he’s back out there the next day. And the next day. It’s, ‘Pitch, pitch, pitch.’ A lot of good players ruin their careers there because of that mentality. If they are the team’s best pitcher in Korea, you pitch every day.”
When Choo was in that bad slump, it’s not as if he did nothing. The man worried about it, and was continually trying to find a way to break out of it. It just didn’t happen until it did.
“Whatever I can control, I did it. I tried to be positive all the time,” he said. “I read lot of (Korean) books. I talked to a lot of teammates and coaches. I talked to the people around the clubhouse.”
With Choo, his production since signing that seven-year, $119 million contract two years ago was never a result of laziness, or poor preparation. The man is a pro, but the productivity has been lacking. Since he came with the club - he is batting .243 with a .338 on base percentage. For the record - I never liked the addition because it was a seven-year contract for a player over 30.
One of the hardest parts for any free agent after signing for stupid money is to get over the reality they will never meet the expectations of the life-altering money. Many players deal with Free Agent Guilt - they know they are getting the dumb money and try to be all things all the time.
“Last year, I did stress about that a lot,” he said. “This year, it was just I was not doing well.”
His .244 average looks awful, but he is doing better now. Maybe it’s not worth writing home to South Korea about, but it beats .096.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760