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As the end of the year approaches, the professional baseball world is once again engulfed in the nightmare of drunk driving. Following Lotte infielder Bae Young-bin, Doosan Bears catcher Park Yu-yeon was revealed to have been caught drunk driving, causing great disappointment to fans.
Yuyeon Park was a promising catcher who graduated from Dongsan High School and joined Doosan in the 2nd 6th round in 2017. Recently, it was belatedly revealed that Park Yoo-yeon was caught drunk driving near her home in late September, when the regular season was in full swing. She had been drinking the day before, and the next day, she got into trouble for getting behind the wheel while still hungover, and her license was suspended after being caught for drunken driving.
However, Park Yoo-yeon concealed the fact that she was caught drunk driving without informing the club. The Doosan team found out about Park Yu-yeon's drunk driving after receiving an anonymous tip three months after the incident. After conducting its own investigation, the club obtained Park Yoo-yeon's confession and reported it to the KBO Clean Baseball Center.
The KBO will soon hold a disciplinary committee to decide whether to impose additional disciplinary action, such as community service, along with suspension from playing. According to the KBO's drunk driving punishment regulations, the first person to be caught with a license suspension will be suspended for 70 games. The first time you get your license revoked, you will be disqualified for 1 year, driving under the influence twice will result in a 5-year disqualification, and 3 or more times will result in a permanent disqualification.
Here, the response of the affiliated club is also attracting attention. Doosan has players like Kang Seung-ho and Lee Yong-chan who already have a history of drunk driving, so public opinion is bound to be even more harsh. It is known that Doosan is currently considering what to do with Park Yoo-yeon. Drunk driving itself is a problem, but considering the shameful crime of hiding the fact from the team, the possibility of being released is also likely.
Also, a month before Park Yoo-yeon, Lotte Bae Young-bin was virtually expelled from the baseball world due to the same controversy over 'covering up his drunk driving immediately after'. On October 23, Bae Young-bin was caught by the police while driving after drinking with acquaintances in Seoul and had his license revoked. Bae Young-bin was also very similar to Park Yoo-yeon's case in that he did not immediately report the fact that he was caught drunk driving to the team, but participated in the final camp and was later found out.
Lotte Club held an internal disciplinary committee and made the sudden decision to release Bae Young-bin even before the KBO's disciplinary action was taken. The club explained the reason for its decision, saying, “We judged that drunk driving itself was a serious crime, and that concealing it without voluntarily reporting it to the club was a serious matter.” The KBO Rewards and Punishment Committee decided to disqualify Bae Young-bin for one year and perform 80 hours of community service.
Bae Young-bin joined Lotte this year as a training player and converted to a full-time player in May. He was a promising player who showed potential by recording a batting average of .313 in 18 games this season. However, due to one careless mistake, his entire baseball career was completely lost overnight. It must be 2025 at the earliest for Bae Young-bin to return to the baseball world, but considering the recently changed social atmosphere, it is unclear whether any club will be willing to recruit a player with a DUI label.
Ahead of last year's inauguration ceremony, KBO President Heo Heo-yeon proposed the 'four evils' (drinking driving, match-fixing, sexual crimes, and drug use) that professional baseball players should never do, and said, "It is an excuse to disappoint fans with various incidents and eventually cause them to leave." “We must remember that we provided this. We have painfully experienced that the deviation of some players can have a huge impact on the entire baseball world,” he emphasized.
After careful consideration, President Heo blocked the return of Kang Jeong-ho to the KBO League, who was criticized by public opinion for his history of drunk driving. In addition, from June of the same year, regulations related to drunk driving were reorganized and sanctions were further strengthened.
However, despite President Heo's firm policy and KBO's regulations, drunk driving accidents are still recurring and forgettable. Last winter, Hanwha Eagles shortstop Ha Joo-seok and NC Dinos outfielder Kim Ki-hwan were caught driving under the influence, causing controversy.
Kim Ki-hwan was released by NC, and Ha Joo-seok returned this year after completing his disciplinary punishment, but lost his starting position to Lee Do-yoon and recorded the worst performance of his career, putting his baseball career at a crossroads. Naturally, the public opinion of fans regarding them is also cold. Today, unlike in the past, athletes who have caused controversy for drunk driving at least once clearly show that it has become difficult for them to recover, either in terms of their performance or their public image.
Athletes can also become victims of drunk driving at any time. NC infielder Do Tae-hoon was injured in a collision with a drunk driving car last year and had to be hospitalized for a while. Jeju United's goalkeeper Yoo Yeon-soo of the K-League professional soccer team was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident involving a drunk driver and was eventually forced to retire from his career as a soccer player. Professional basketball player Kim Min-gu (retired) lost his athletic ability and went downhill in his career after suffering a fatal hip injury in a car accident while driving drunk in 2014.
The fact that Park Yoo-yeon and Bae Young-bin tried to conceal the fact that they were caught drunk driving means, in other words, that they were aware of the high price they were paying for their actions. But that fear should have been felt before committing drunk driving. The players themselves should have been more careful, as they are legally recognized as drunk driving charges even if they briefly got behind the wheel while calling in a designated driver or if they drove while hungover the day after drinking.
On the other hand, even if it is not limited to the area of drunk driving, the repeated incidents of young professional baseball players with low experience getting caught up in unpleasant incidents one after another raises concerns.
Earlier this year, Seo Jun-won of Lotte was expelled from the baseball world after it was revealed that he was involved in sexual crimes, and he was sentenced to three years in prison and five years probation at trial. In 2020, Shin Dong-soo, a rookie infielder for the Samsung Lions, was also expelled after it was revealed that he had continuously posted private posts on social media containing abusive language that disparaged the team and baseball officials, as well as his hometown, the disabled, and minors. These players and Park Yoo-yeon and Bae Young-bin are all young players in their late teens to early 20s.
There is a saying that habits from the age of three last until the age of eighty. Professional baseball players actually have the same influence as public figures in that they exist based on the interest and love of their fans. Therefore, today's fans also value the personality of professional sports players as well as their skills. We must be wary of young athletes coming into professional society and creating an atmosphere that only emphasizes competition and results, while neglecting appropriate social responsibility.
At a time when Korean baseball was barely enjoying positive results by recovering 8 million spectators for the first time in 5 years, it is not a good sign that the 'morality' issue due to the deviation of some young players is coming to the fore again. This is why the KBO and its affiliated clubs need to pay more attention to proper character education and player management as much as exercise.
Sunday, December 10, 2023