When news broke last week that Byung Ho Park would be returning to South Korea, many reasons were given for his decision: Lack of opportunity to play in the majors. Pride. Homesickness. As I was looking over Korean news articles on the matter (via Google Translate), I saw a lot of these same reasons pop up, but one particular report caught my attention — and not for good reasons.
According to this report, a person apparently close to Park claims Park felt he was treated unfairly by the new Twins’ front office. Those feelings would seem reasonable from Park’s point of view, given how the front office removed him from the 40-man roster right before spring training and never really gave him another chance, despite their seeming willingness to call up and DFA other players frequently (particularly pitchers).
However, the report also included a number of rumors I had not heard before:
- Apparently, Park didn’t think the hamstring injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2017 season was that serious. When the team quickly placed him on the DL, Park reportedly found out from the media instead of directly from the team. According to the report, his agent made some sort of formal grievance over the matter.
- When Park was placed on the DL, he supposedly received little treatment or support (or, perhaps, much less than he was used to), which may have led to the slow recovery.
- There were known rumors that the new front office had no plans to use Park or catcher John Ryan Murphy in the future.
- Park’s wife and family were living in Minneapolis, and Park was allegedly lonely and desperate to get back to the majors to be with them and the larger Korean community in the Twin Cities.
- Minnesota’s treatment of Park was supposedly the main reason he wanted to cancel the contract and return to South Korea, despite losing multi-millions in doing so. The worst part: One person claimed this was exactly what Minnesota was trying to make happen.
That’s a lot to unpack, which is exactly what a bilingual friend of mine from South Korea said when I showed him the report. He said my general interpretation of the article was correct, but that a lot of these things were likely exaggerations. I would tend to agree, especially given the unknown nature of the sources and the fact I didn’t see these details in any of the other Korean articles I looked over.
To make one thing clear: it doesn’t appear any of these rumors came from Park himself. In the direct comments Park made to the media, he said he was happy for the experience, didn’t regret it, and just wished it had gone better. Twins CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have always spoken highly of Park’s attitude, saying he handled everything “incredibly professionally” and had an “exceptional” work ethic.
I also have no reason to think any of these rumors were things the Twins front office did intentionally, if at all. Obviously, the fact Park’s family was in Minneapolis while he was in Rochester is not really the front office’s business. It’s also certainly believable that medical treatment for minor league players not on the 40-man roster isn’t as nice as treatment players receive in the big leagues, nothing personal to Park. Maybe Park and Murphy weren’t in the front office’s future plans, and other people in the organization knew that, but evaluating players and making plans is the front office’s job.
As for the Twins treating Park unfairly to try and get him to give up money and go home, that seems ludicrous. If Park showed he could be an asset to the big league team, there’s no doubt in my mind the front office would have been happy to call him up, whether he was on the 40-man roster or not. Park’s contract wasn’t even big enough to be some sort of problem. The problem was that Park was never able to prove he deserved a call up to a contending major league team.
The only one of the reported rumors I might believe is that Park somehow found out he was placed on the DL through the media before the team informed him. Even if that was true, though, it seems likely that could have been an inadvertent mistake. Though Park almost always had a translator around, I can see how it might complicate getting messages to Park, and heck, sometimes even English-speaking players find things out through the media before the team tells them these days. It’s a byproduct of having the media everywhere, all the time, right at our fingertips. The rumor could also be entirely false.
So why did I bring up this report at all? I don’t know — I found it interesting, though mostly unbelievable. It might also shed some light on how delicate communications between Asian players and media and an English-speaking front office can be, if only because there are fewer Korean (and Japanese) speakers in America than, say, Spanish speakers. One side can create a whole narrative painting things that happened in a totally different light, and we might never even hear about it.
In any case, I hope Park truly does not regret his time with the Twins, and I have no real reason to think that he does. I don’t regret the Twins signing Park — it seemed like a reasonable enough gamble at the time to me. For one reason or another, however, things just didn’t work out. It happens.