Lee Seung-yuop, the greatest home run hitter in South Korean baseball history, will be managing in the top professional league for the first time.
The Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced Lee, the league's all-time home run leader with 467, as their new manager Friday. Lee signed a three-year contract worth 1.8 billion won ($1.26 million) in total: 500 million won in annual salary and 300 million won in a signing bonus.
He will be formally introduced in a ceremony Tuesday at the Bears' home park, Jamsil Baseball Stadium, in Seoul.
The 46-year-old, who ended a 23-year career in 2017, has never managed or coached at any level before. Following his retirement, Lee dabbled in broadcasting as a color commentator and also served as an honorary ambassador for the KBO. He founded his namesake scholarship foundation to help youth baseball players.
Lee was named to the national team technical committee earlier this year for the Asian Games and the World Baseball Classic.
Lee is replacing Kim Tae-hyoung, who guided the Bears to a record seven straight Korean Series, from 2015 and 2021, and won three championships in that span. Kim's contract expired at the end of this past regular season, and the Bears, who finished in ninth place at 60-82-2 (wins-losses-ties) to miss the postseason, said Tuesday they would not bring Kim back.
Lee will now be taking over a rebuilding team looking to return to glory days, after losing several key veterans in free agency and to retirement in recent winters.
In a statement released by the Bears, Lee said he had long wanted to become a manager as a way to give back the love and support he'd received from fans during his playing days, and the Bears reached out at the right moment.
"I've missed being on the baseball field," Lee said. "I will try to rely on my playing experience in Korea and Japan, and on lessons I've learned as a commentator and a KBO technical official. I want to emphasize strong fundamentals rather than fancy plays to give our fans something to cheer about."
The Bears said they were sold on Lee's philosophy and vision as manager and saw him as "the right person to take us to the next step by bringing veterans and young players together."
In a phone conversation with Yonhap News Agency after the Bears' announcement, Lee said he was bracing himself for a pressure-packed job.
"As a professional, you must deal with that kind of pressure and burden," Lee said. "As I was going through the process with Doosan, I told myself I'll be ready to deal with any type of pressure that comes my way."
Lee said he understood the criticism leveled against him for not having any prior managing experience and added he won't let it get in his way.
"Baseball is a team sport. Everyone from the manager, coaches, players, scouts, front-office staff and groundskeepers have to come together as one," Lee said. "I am looking forward to learning from different people."
Lee also thanked his predecessor, Kim Tae-hyoung, for having laid strong building blocks for the future.
"Obviously, this team isn't as strong as it once was, but I see plenty of potential for a bounceback," Lee said. "I will do the best I can to get this team ready for the 2023 season."
Although Lee is the least experienced skipper in the KBO, he immediately becomes the biggest name in the managerial ranks.
In addition to the career home run mark, Lee also owns the single season record with 56 home runs, from the memorable 2003 season.
Lee was voted the regular season MVP for the third straight time and for the fifth time overall that year. No one has won more MVP awards in the KBO's 40-year history, and he remains the only player to win the top player prize for three consecutive years.
Lee also hit 54 home runs in 1999 and is one of just two players with multiple 50-homer campaigns.
Lee is also the lifetime leader in RBIs (1,498), runs (1,355), doubles (464) and total bases (4,077).
In celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the KBO put together a team of the league's 40 greatest players. Lee ranked fourth in voting by fans and a panel of experts.
The pitcher-turned-first baseman spent his entire 15-year KBO career with the Samsung Lions, where he became so synonymous with the franchise that he was nicknamed "Lion King." Lee won four Korean Series titles with the Lions: 2002, 2012, 2013 and 2014. He was the 2012 Korean Series MVP.
Lee played for three clubs in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) from 2004 to 2011, highlighted by his stint with the Yomiuri Giants. Lee had 159 home runs in the NPB.
Internationally, Lee hit some of the most iconic home runs in South Korean baseball history, helping the country to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics and bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics. South Korea finished third at the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, with Lee batting in the heart of the order. (Yonhap)