Shin-Soo Choo returned to the Cleveland Indians a "cleansed" man after the outfielder spent a four-week stint in South Korea's army during the offseason. Physically, mentally, emotionally — even spiritually — Choo says he came out transformed.
The Tribe will be grateful, because Choo's 2011 season was an unqualified mess — from stalled contract negotiations, to a drunken driving arrest, to three stints on the disabled list and wrist surgery, to lousy results at the plate.
Though he received a citizen's exemption from serving two years as a reward for leading South Korea to the gold medal at the Asian Games, Choo still had to go through army basic training. In his unit of 200 men, Choo hiked for 16 miles with 55 pounds of weight in his backpack. He learned how to fire a gun. He tossed hand grenades (he probably was already good at that). He also developed an appreciation for the sacrifices that military men and women make. And he thought much about his own life.
Reporter Tom Withers of the Associated Press writes:
The pressure to succeed had always driven him, and last year it nearly drove him mad. He couldn't separate the business from the game. There was no joy.
But those six-hour walks showed him how to live life in small steps.
"It made me realize how lucky I am to play baseball," he said. "I'm not worried about anything. I used to worry, not about baseball, but how fans thought about me. Now, if people say something or talk bad, I don't care. I'm not listening to anything. I'm just going to work hard, play hard and if I go 0 for 4, there's the next day."
Major League Baseball sports a deep tradition of players who have served in the military, though it's a tradition that seems to be a part of history long past. That's not to say, however, that today's major-league ballplayer couldn't use a little South Korean armed forces discipline. In honor of Choo, let's look at 10 other major leaguers who could benefit from a hitch in South Korea's army:
1. Luke Scott: Lists his enemies as "criminals, communists and Red Sox fans." With China just across the Yellow Sea, and North Korea on the other side of the 38th parallel, there's no better post in the world for Commie Watchin'. Plus, he's well-trained in weaponry, and is adept at foreign languages. Come to think of it, why is he playing baseball and not working for the CIA? You know he wants to go play mercenary somewhere; this would get it out of his system.
2. Nyjer Morgan: Has more energy than Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, could possibly handle. Wouldn't be afraid to give a cheap shot or two for his adopted country. Morgan should know that the best hockey players are the most disciplined ones, but sometimes he plays like he never got that memo.
3. Logan Morrison: Already respectful of the U.S. military (his dad served in the Coast Guard), LoMo still could use a little self-control. His outspoken and individualistic attitude has gotten him in trouble with his bosses at the Marlins — but at least he knows what it's like to spar with dictators.
4. Carlos Zambrano: If only Big Z channeled his energies into taking out his frustrations on opponents and not dugout drink dispensers (and teammates). With their culture split into two countries by politics, Koreans could teach him something about sacrifice and priorities. And hopefully something about staying hydrated.
5. Joe Mauer: It's more about what Mauer's presence in Korea's army would show his detractors and their silly arguments about how he doesn't work hard enough now that he's gotten paid. A head's up, however: Korea probably won't go for any of that bi-lateral weakness stuff.
6. John Lackey: If any major leaguer could use a dose of perspective, it's this guy. The next time he tries to sneak a can of beer and a fried chicken wing into his foot locker will be the last time, if his South Korean drill sergeant is worth anything.
7. Alex Rodriguez: A modern-day Gomer Pyle, USMC if there ever was one. Just imagine A-Rod hauling a cooler of his own food into the mess hall and telling the cooks how to prepare it.
8. Colby Rasmus: No, his dad can't come too. This ain't "Dance Moms."
9. Alex Rios: Wanted to bring Adam Dunn with him, but South Korea won't admit both of them at the same time because neither would ever hit anything with their rifles.
10. Michael Young: Self-professed ultimate team guy. Here's the ultimate chance to prove it.
Also receiving votes: Manny Ramirez.