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The Curious Case of Jung-ho Kang: What the Pirates Should Do With Their Troubled Third Baseman

Kang is important to the Pirates, but he needs to get himself under control first.
Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today

To say the least, it has been an interesting start to the major league career of Jung-ho Kang.  Billed as the best hitter to make the transition from the KBO League in South Korea to the majors, Pirates fans were thrilled when it was revealed their team was the surprise winning bidder for Kang’s services.  Despite fears that he would take some time to adjust to the American game, he impressed many in 2015 by showing the same power that wowed the masses in his home country.  It was far off from his career-high 40 in his last season in South Korea, but 15 home runs was a good sign that Kang could hit pitches with higher velocity, something most pitchers lacked in the KBO League.

Not only did he impress with his power, Kang showed that he can drive the ball to all fields.  He hit .287 with a .461 slugging and drove in 58 runs.  Kang wasn’t too shabby with the glove, either, after concerns he had a limited throwing arm, despite being a standout shortstop in Korea wining four Korean Golden Gloves awards.  Splitting his time between shortstop and third base, he did end up committing 14 errors, but showed he can be an above-average fielder given time.  However, Kang’s career as a shortstop can to an abrupt end in an afternoon game in late September 2015, thanks to a takeout slide by Chris Coghlan.  The slide caused a complete fracture of the rookie’s knee and leg, forcing him to undergo surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture as well as a lateral meniscal repair.

The injury would cause Kang to not only miss the remainder of his rookie season, but the first portion of his second season in the majors too.  Nearly eight months after his career flashed before his eyes, he made his triumphant return to the Pirates lineup at the start of a weekend tilt May 6th at St. Louis.  Kang did not disappoint in his return to the club, belting two home runs which ended up being the difference in a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals. Though his batting average and WAR fell from his rookie season, he outperformed his totals in home runs (21), RBIs (61) and slugging percentage (.513).  However, Kang was limited to 103 games in 2016 thanks to his recovery from his 2015 injuries and sitting out about a month late in the season with a sore shoulder.  Despite his success on the field this past season, off the field it was one of the most tumultuous years for a Pittsburgh athlete in recent memory.

In early July 2016, it was revealed that Kang was being investigated by Chicago Police for an alleged sexual assault involving the third basemen.  The women involved in the incident told police that she met Kang on the hookup app Bumble and agreed to meet him at his hotel where he was staying during the Pirates series against the Cubs.  The report went on to say that after having some alcohol given to her by the Pirates star, she blacked out and did not wake up until she was in a cab leaving the hotel.  This put the club in a rough spot.  Similar incidents in other leagues have led the team or league itself to suspend a player involved in a sexual assault.  But given the fact that Kang has only been investigated by police and not charged, the Pirates and MLB have yet to punish him in any form.  In fact, the investigation has allegedly stalled because Chicago police cannot find the woman.

This wasn’t the only run-in with the law in 2016.  Back in his home country of Korea, Kang was charged with leaving the scene of a DUI crash after he wrecked into a guardrail and nearly crashed into vehicles waiting at a red light.  This was only the latest DUI for the Korean bad boy, who had two previous DUI’s on his record.  His license was revoked after he was arrested and he is due in court February 22, right in the middle of the Spring Training workouts which begin February 17.  Neither the Pirates nor MLB have yet to act on this latest incident.

If Kang is not thrown in a Korean prison, they need to get this guy under control.  He needs help.  Kang is the Korean Johnny Manziel.  He thinks he is an alpha dog and nothing can touch or stop him.  I get that he is meeting with the Joint Treatment Program provided by the collective bargaining agreement, but those things sometimes don’t work.  Rehab is a crap shot too.  Look at Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.  These two were sent to rehab multiple times over by different teams and though it may seem that it worked in the short term, in the long term they fell back into their old habits.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Kang is a big drugs guy putting everything he can up his nose.   Though I could be wrong about this since I’m not familiar with how he parties, it just seems as if he gets lost in the sauce too many times.  He may, allegedly, drug women though.

Now if I’m the Pirates and the Korean justice system is lenient with the most beloved athlete in their country, I stay the course with Kang but on a short leash. Let’s be honest, this guy makes the team so much better.  Yeah he has this alpha dog complex to him, but don’t all big time athletes do? Andrew McCutchen does.  Antonio Brown does.  Ben Roethliesberger does.  But unlike Kang, these guys aren’t the most popular athlete in an entire country.  Though he does have this pressure on him from Korea and Pirates fans, he still needs to be responsible for his actions. If any further incidents arise again, you cut Kang immediately.  The Pirates have no time to deal with a player that can’t get his life under control.  You will miss his bat, but you won’t miss the constant negative headlines.

To be real, I hope Kang is a Pirate is whole career.  He makes a big difference whenever he is in the lineup with his ability as a hitter.   If the team wants to see the playoffs again, Kang will have to play a huge role in making that possible.  But still, if things don’t change with him, the Pirates have no time for any more shenanigans of this kind.  Kang needs get his life on the right track and mature as a man.  In the case he does spend time in a Korean prison, the team needs to give him a shot again once he is freed as long as the sentence is no longer than one year.  Anything longer than that they need to cut him, as sitting out more than one year for any ball player can lead to them losing a lot of their ability.  Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and he is in a Pirates uniform on Opening Day, as long as he isn’t suspended either, which he could be.  Let’s just hope for the best for Kang.

About Rich Donahue (31 Articles)
Rich Donahue is a contributor to Point of Pittsburgh. He covers Duquesne basketball and recruiting for Pittsburgh Sports Now. Previously he was the editor for City of Champions, which is a part of the FanSided Network.
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