On retirement tour, Korean baseball legend seeking low profile

By Yonhap
  • Published : Aug 11, 2017 - 10:50
  • Updated : Aug 11, 2017 - 11:06

Having embarked on South Korean baseball's first retirement tour, Samsung Lions slugger Lee Seung-yuop just wants to keep a low profile.

Modest to a fault, the career home run leader in the Korea Baseball Organization, who will retire this year after 15 seasons here, says he doesn't want to get in the way of his teammates or his opponents -- literally and figuratively.

Nine other KBO clubs have planned ceremonies for Lee's final visits to their ballparks. The Hanwha Eagles, based in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers south of Seoul, provided the first stop on the farewell tour at their Hanwha Life Eagles Park on Thursday.

They'd planned special events for Friday, which would have been Lee's final game in Daejeon if Thursday's contest hadn't been rained out. That game will be rescheduled for sometime after Sept. 19, when teams start playing make-up games. Though Lee will visit Daejeon again later in the season, the Eagles will go ahead with their retirement ceremony for the league's greatest slugger as scheduled.

And before Thursday's game, Lee was besieged by cameras and reporters on the field. He said he wanted to make sure there would be enough space for both his teammates and the Eagles to stay focused on the game at hand.

"This is a huge honor for me," the 40-year-old said of the farewell tour, inspired in part by what Major League Baseball stars Derek Jeter and David Ortiz experienced in recent years.

"But I don't want this to interfere with other players' preparations," Lee added. "Professional ball players come to the stadium to win games. And I don't think it's appropriate for a ceremony to take away from the game itself. That's why I've been asking for toned-down ceremonies."

Lee admitted he is the type of person who perhaps worries too much about what others think of him and who doesn't want too much of the spotlight on himself.

As far as he is concerned, Lee is just a ball player who wants to keep winning.

In this file photo taken on July 15, 2017, Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions watches his pop up in the ninth inning of the annual Korea Baseball Organization All-Star Game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu. (Yonhap)
"I want to be remembered as a player who did his best until the end," Lee said, "I'll do my absolute best on this retirement tour. The goal for all professional athletes is to win, and it won't change for me on this tour."

Lee has spent his entire 15-year KBO career with the Lions, based in his hometown of Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Lee also had an eight-season stint in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball from 2004 to 2011.

The list of Lee's accomplishments is long and decorated. Originally drafted out of high school as a pitcher in 1995, Lee converted into a first baseman as a pro and developed into the greatest home run hitter in the KBO's 35-year history.

Lee is the KBO's all-time leader with 461 home runs, 1,475 RBIs, 1,333 runs scored and 4,018 total bases. These totals would have been higher had Lee not spent eight seasons in Japan.

Lee also owns the KBO's single-season home run record with 56 from the 2013 season. He is a five-time regular season MVP and remains the only player to win the top individual award in three consecutive seasons, having done so from 2001 to 2003.

Lee won four championships with the Lions and was voted the MVP of the Korean Series in 2012.

A week from his 41st birthday, Lee isn't just playing out the string in his final season. He's batting .286 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs in 100 games. He's second on the club in home runs and third in RBIs.

The Lions, on the other hand, are in the midst of another lost season. They're 42-61-4 (wins-losses-ties) to rank eighth, 11.5 games out of the fifth and the wild-card spot. (Yonhap)