In football, the big leagues in Europe are increasingly home to players from Asia, with the average age of the typical export falling by the year. This is so much so that players have arrived in England and Germany while still in their teens. In many cases, the clubs are happy to see their prodigies test themselves in the West. In football, international trade is widespread.
In baseball, it’s a little different.
A row has broken out in South Korea after Major League Baseball (MLB) team the Baltimore Orioles signed a 17-year-old pitcher at the end of January.
The Orioles paid $550,000 to sign pitching prospect Kim Seong-min, still to start his final year at high school.
“We’re glad to sign a player that our scouts feel is one of the top amateur left-handed pitchers in South Korea. Kim has an excellent curveball and very good control,” said Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette at the time.
The locals, though, aren’t all happy. Such moves by MLB teams make it difficult to develop talent, according to Michael Park, the operations manager of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), which runs the nation’s popular baseball league.
“We only have 50 high school teams and taking promising players away like this makes it very hard for Korean baseball to stay strong,” said Park. “We were told they will look into the case…They are investigating whether the Orioles did sign Kim to a contract.”
The KBO has filed a complaint with the MLB office, claiming that it had no knowledge of Baltimore’s negotiations with Kim. Foreign teams are officially free to sign non-professional or professional Korean players acknowledged Park and it has happened before, but the KBO insists that it had to be contacted first to check the player’s status.
“The MLB will let us know once they have decided upon a proper measure of response,” Park said. “Poaching our players like this makes it difficult for [South Korea] to keep its scouting rules tight and to develop our youth sports programs.”
The Korea Baseball Association (KBA), which oversees the game as a whole, has now moved to ban Baltimore scouts from all Korean games, and have banned Kim from playing or coaching in Korea.