The Baltimore Orioles Have Pissed Off KoreaS

This fresh-faced young man is Kim Seong-Min, who as recently as last month was a regular high school student in South Korea. But he's a lefty pitcher, which automatically makes him one of the most desirable people on Earth, and the Orioles swooped in to cause an international incident and get their organization banned from an entire country. This is not normally how a rebuilding process goes, O's fans.

The Orioles signed Kim, and new GM Dan Duquette called him"one of the top amateur left-handed pitchers in South Korea" who has "an excellent curveball and very good control." They paid him a cool half-million dollars, and Kim was to report to Orioles spring training this week.

We have long since passed the days when Koreans were thrilled just to see one of their own make it in the Major Leagues. The domestic KBO, having recently moved away from a territorial draft, is concerned that too many young stars are coming to America and weakening the level of talent over there. (Kim is the 56th Korean player to sign with an MLB club.) So they decided make their stand here and now, and come down hard on poor Baltimore.

First, Kim was suspended indefinitely from ever playing in South Korea, no small penalty considering very few prospects make it in America—only 12 have reached the Big Leagues. Then, the whole Orioles scouting department was banned from the country. This is not an exaggeration: no Orioles employees are allowed to attend amateur baseball games anywhere in South Korea. A fruitful and emerging theater for young baseball talent, completely closed off to the Orioles.

It gets worse. Despite an official apology from Dan Duquette, MLB caved to South Korean protests and declared Kim's contract with the Orioles null and void. Kim will stay in Korea, where presumably his suspension will be lifted, and the O's have nothing to show for their efforts except a travel ban.

The most fascinating part of all this is that MLB didn't have to do anything. The Orioles broke none of their rules. Sure, Korean rules prohibit Korean teams from signing high schoolers, but there's nothing on the books stopping an American team from doing it. All Baltimore violated was a gentleman's agreement—"a breach in protocol"—not to negotiate with Korean players before alerting the KBO. MLB's reasons for voiding Kim's contract are twofold: to hopefully get Orioles scouts back into the country, and to stay on friendly terms with Korean baseball. They value the talent pipeline from South Korea, as well as the millions of dollars spent on MLB merchandise there each year. MLB would rather be exalted as the ultimate destination for a select few Korean stars than be resented as an organization that raids the KBO's prospects. MLB figures its own interests are better served by allowing for a healthy domestic Korean league, and if that has to come at the expense of the Orioles looking the fool? It's only the Orioles.