An ‘elephant’ to lead the Samsung LionsKim Eung-yong, 63, was called an elephant for 30 years. Now, he can be called a CEO.
The former baseball player, who is remembered as the “eternal fourth batter,” was appointed chief executive officer of the Samsung Lions baseball club, based in Daegu, in December.
“When I was a first baseman for Hanil Bank, I caught the ball as well as an elephant grabs and eats [food],” Mr. Kim said, explaining how he earned his nickname.
But it was also because of his large frame ― Kim stands 185 centimeters (6 feet) tall and weighs 110 kilograms (242 pounds).
Outside the dugout, Kim is a different person. He is not a slow speaker or a brusque person with an expressionless face; rather, he has a generous smile.
During an interview, Kim wanted to have dinner, but instead of ordering a traditional Korean soup or meat dish like bulgogi, he ordered jumbo shrimp, steak and a cream soup.
Since he obtained a pass to a U.S. Army base in Daegu last fall, he has three meals a day at the base when he is off. When there is a game, he eats breakfast and lunch there.
“When I was nine and went to Busan to escape from the Korean War, my only wish was to have a full stomach,” Kim said. “I started to eat a lot of meat when I began playing baseball.”
Kim was born in Pyeongwon county, South Pyeongan province, in North Korea, but moved to Busan with his father in 1951, when the UN forces were retreating south, leaving his mother and sister behind.
“I had thought I would be away from home for a short time, but it ended up being for my entire life,” Kim said. “I no longer remember the faces of my mother and sister. Strangely, I can still recall waterway construction work near my home.”
Kim was almost tricked by a false letter. A few years ago, a man brought him a letter which he said was from his mother and sister. The letter contained several photographs. “I showed them to my aunt in Suwon and realized that it was a fraud. I was close to giving away a lot of money,” Kim said.
Kim has applied several times to the Unification Ministry to be allowed to visit North Korea, but to no avail.
“During major holidays, I miss my mother very much. On those days, I visit Imjingak, a place near the Demilitarized Zone, but it is useless,” he said.
Kim also drank two glasses of beer with dinner. “Every night, I drink several bottles of soju and beer. If I don’t drink, I can’t sleep because of too many thoughts such as which pitcher to use and strategies for tomorrow,” Kim said.
If he had not been promoted to chief executive officer and retired as coach, he planned to go to his old schools and watch children play baseball. “I wanted to take boxes of cookies in my car and give them to kids,” Kim said. “I will when I retire.”
Kim began playing baseball when he was a freshman in middle school. In 1960, after graduating from Busan Commercial High School and being rejected by the top baseball teams, Kim joined a team sponsored by a transportation company.
“I was always taking batting practice, almost until my hands bled,” he said. Later, Kim moved from one team to another and enjoyed stardom as the fourth hitter of the national team.
Kim’s job is to meet professional managers from other pro baseball teams. But in another intervew, Kim said he was “afraid” to meet them. “I won’t do anything for the year,” he said, adding that he feels pressure from the media and the public.
As he was leaving a restaurant in Daegu, a waiter said to him, “Good bye, chief executive officer Kim.”
Kim waved his hand in a rebuff and said, “No, what’s with the chief executive? Call me coach.”
by Choi Joon-ho