Choo isn't afraid to take one for the team
Rangers' new leadoff hitter gets hit by pitches at a near-historic rate
ARLINGTON -- Ian Kinsler set a Rangers record last season in getting hit by eight pitches. That gave him 57 for his career, the most in Rangers history, before he departed for Tigers.
Now Shin-Soo Choo has seven years to catch Kinsler. The odds seem to be on his side.
The Rangers signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract, and one of the reasons is they love his ability to get on base. Choo's knack for getting in the way of a pitch has done wonders for his on-base percentage, especially last season.
Choo was hit by 26 pitches in 2013, the most in the Major Leagues. It was the 33rd time in Major League history that a batter was hit by at least 26 pitches. The record is 51 by Hughie Jennings in 1896 for the Baltimore Orioles. The modern-day record is 51, set by Ron Hunt of the Expos in 1971. The Rangers record is held by Alex Rodriguez, with 16 in 2001.
"Hit by pitch is part of baseball," Choo said last week at FanFest. "I can't do anything. If I get scared about hit by pitch, I might change my approach, and I can't do anything. Pitchers can throw inside. I can hit it, or I get hit."
Choo has a long way to go before breaking Jennings' all-time record of 287, with Craig Biggio right behind at 285. Jason Giambi is the active leader with 179, and new Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder is tied for 11th with 104. Fielder was hit by 21 pitches in 2010, his highest in one season.
But Choo is making up ground. He has been hit by 74 pitches in the past five years, second most in the Major Leagues behind Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, who has been hit 84 times.
Choo has had one serious injury resulting from a hit by pitch. He suffered a fractured left thumb when he was hit on June 24, 2011, and missed seven weeks. When he returned, he was wearing a plastic protective covering over the thumb. That saved him from another serious injury the following April when White Sox pitcher Chris Sale hit him in the same thumb.
"That's life," Choo said. "You think about injury and you can't play 100 percent. If you get injured, you get injured. I don't want to be scared to play in the field. That's just me."
Quentin was involved in a bench-clearing altercation last season after he was hit by Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke on April 11. Quentin charged the mound, and Greinke suffered a broken collarbone during the brawl. Choo held his temper in check last season, despite the league-leading plunks, and he normally shows no emotion when he gets hit.
The exception was in August, when he was buzzed high and tight by D-backs pitcher Patrick Corbin. Choo was visibly demonstrative with words directed at Corbin, catcher Wil Nieves and home-plate umpire Jerry Meals.
"I've never said something to a pitcher or a catcher," Choo said the day after the game. "But last night, it was close to the head. That's a different story. I was protecting myself. If he hit me on purpose or missed below the head, in the back, I don't care. I'll go to first base. But when it's close to the head, it's a different story. I was sensitive last night and protected myself."
Choo is like Biggio, who also accepted getting hit by a pitch as part of the game and never reacted emotionally to it. Instead, Biggio wore an oversized pad to protect his forearm and elbow.
"I never did charge the mound," Biggio told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart the day after the Quentin-Greinke brawl. "I always felt that if I got hit on purpose, my pitcher was going to stick up for me and there was no reason to go out and charge the mound. An eye for an eye. That's how you get the respect from your teammates. From the standpoint of a hitter, I didn't move. I didn't stand on top of the plate, but I knew if guys came in, I was going to get hit. That's part of the game."
Don Baylor, who is now the Angels' hitting coach, was a player who seemed to relish getting hit by a pitch. He was right behind Biggio in getting hit 267 times in his 19-year career that ended in 1988. He led the league eight times, with a career-high 35 while with the Red Sox in 1986.
"My first goal when I go to the plate is to get a hit," Baylor once explained. "My second goal is to get hit. When the ball is inside, I don't back away. Common sense says back away, but I guess common sense isn't that common. I just stiffen up and take the blow. Getting hit is my way of saying, 'I'm not going to back off.'"
Choo appears to have the same mentality.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.