Saturday, November 29, 2008

KBO integrity at stake over sign trade fiasco

This has not been a quiet offseason in the Korea Baseball Organization and not always for the right reasons. It’s difficult to determine whether we sports scribes should delight in the overflowing of material or grow frustrated about the state of the union in the nation’s most popular professional sport. The cause celebre this time is the alleged trading of pitching signs among players during games.

LG Twins’ manager Kim Jae-park has said some umpires told him there are a few players who trade pitchers’ signs of their own team with their opponents. The KBO, the completely inept body that it is, was apparently unaware of the illicit behavior and feinted shock over Kim’s comments. The league officials said they will look further into the matter, but whenever the KBO says it will do something, I just wish the officials would save everyone time by keeping quiet and acting like they mean business.

But this is a prime opportunity for the KBO and its outgoing commissioner, Shin Sang-woo, to redeem themselves.Sign trading is a horrible act that threatens the integrity of the game and violates the spirit of fair play. Sign stealing, whereby runners on base would try to read the catcher’s signs and relay them to their teammates at the plate, has been a common practice and may even be considered wily gamesmanship - as long as teams don’t install cameras in outfield seats.

At least when you try to steal signs, you’re trying to benefit your teammates. But when you trade signs, you’re the only one gaining an advantage and you’re doing it in exchange for disclosing signs of your own pitcher. How foolish is that?Kim said the umpires told him players traded signs for signs. But what if money comes into the picture, if it hasn’t already?

Theoretically, in a sporting culture where seniority rules, a veteran could prod a rookie for pitching signs and could offer him some cold, hard cash in return. Sign trading is ripe with such possibilities. Kim said he only mentioned this in passing to a couple of reporters, but this is an important issue for the KBO.

At a time when minor league and industrial league football players are mired in match-fixing scandals, the KBO must try to retain fans’ faith in professional baseball in Korea, if it hasn’t lost some already. Earlier this month, Shin’s exasperating indecisiveness in dealing with the disputed trade involving pitcher Jang Won-sam was the cause of much hand-wringing. Shin has said he will step down this year even though his term ends in March next year.

To his credit, Shin has done some positive things for the league and the attendance figures this year reached the highest mark in more than a decade. But if he were to quit tomorrow, Shin’s lasting legacy would be the way he fumbled the ball on the Jang affair when it was in his court. But he’s got one more shot with the sign-trading controversy.

Fans no longer want to hear empty talk. They want to see some real action. Here’s what Shin’s got to do: Go talk to umpires, players and coaches, and find out the culprits in the sign trading scheme. It’s as simple as that - though Shin has shown inability to handle straightforward matters at times. Some day, I hope to write something positive about Shin and the KBO. Kicking someone who’s already down has been too easy. []

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