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(LEAD) Former MVP pitcher Choi dies of cancer

All Headlines 08:43 September 14, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS surviving family at bottom; details about major league deal in paras 9-10)

SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) -- Choi Dong-won, one of the premier power pitchers in South Korean baseball in the 1980s, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 53 years old.

The National Health Insurance Corp. (NHIC) Ilsan Hospital in Goyang, west of Seoul, said Choi lost his battle with colorectal cancer. The former right-hander for the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007, while serving as the minor league manager for the Hanwha Eagles. But he improved over the next two years and he was named a supervisor for the KBO in 2009.

But his condition had worsened as of late and he was hospitalized recently at the Ilsan institution.

Choi pitched eight seasons in the KBO, six with the Giants, based in his hometown of Busan. His best season came in 1984, his second year in the league.

Choi won the most valuable player (MVP) honors that year after leading the league with 27 wins and 223 strikeouts in 284 2/3 innings. The strikeout total remains the KBO's all-time single season record.

Choi also helped the Giants take the Korean Series title in 1984. In the best-of-seven championship round, Choi earned all four victories for the Giants, appearing in five games and throwing three complete games. No other pitcher since has won all four games for his club in a best-of-seven playoff series.

Dubbed "iron arm" for his endurance, Choi pitched more than 200 innings in each of his first five seasons. But he later had a fallout with the Giants' management for trying to found a KBO players' union, and was traded to the Samsung Lions after the 1988 season.

He spent two mediocre seasons with the Lions before retiring at age 32.

Previously, Choi was poised to become the first Korean in Major League Baseball following a dominant amateur career. In 1981, he signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. At an international tournament held in Edmonton earlier that year, Choi had pitched a one-hit shutout against Canada and carried a perfect game into the ninth inning. Scouts later said Choi had the ability to pitch in the big leagues immediately.

At the time, Choi hadn't yet completed his mandatory military service, and the government waived his duty. But in a controversial move, the government decided Choi would only get his exemption if he stayed in the country and that he would have to complete his military service if he wanted to pitch in the majors. With the Blue Jays threatening to go through courts, Choi stayed put and became a star in the KBO.

Choi dabbled in politics but lost his bid for a seat as an opposition lawmaker in Busan in 1991. He also did color commentary for television and radio baseball coverage and even tried his hand at a television sitcom. Choi began his coaching career in 2001.

Choi is survived by his wife and son.


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