Former pitching star finds success as managerSix years after leaving baseball as a player, the Samsung Lions’s new manager Sun Dong-yuhl, 43, was still able to throw a fastball at 140 kilometers (86 miles) per hour. This feat took place at the All Star Game in Incheon last month where he threw the starting pitch, and it soon became a topic of conversation.
People asked, “How could he still throw such a fastball?” or “How has he managed to stay fit?” But they all seemed to agree that “Sun Dong-yuhl never disappoints.”
The fact that he has led Samsung to the top spot in the league during the first half of the season in his first year as a manager, as well as the fastball he threw, speaks volumes for him and his leadership.
Sun was interviewed when he was in Busan for an away game last month.
He seems to have been born with a very flexible body. “When we are doing stretching exercises, I am still more elastic than the average player,” Sun said.
Sun noted that as a youngster he ate more health foods than other people. He has the sad memory of his elder brother dying of leukemia while in the sixth grade, and after that his parents took good care of their second son, who was already playing baseball. They wanted him to quit playing baseball, but Sun was persistent.
“Then we will look after your health, and try to eat everything we give you,” he recalls his parents saying. Sun drank beef-bone boiled soup like water. He also drank eel soup and the blood of a deer from where its antlers have been severed, and ate snake.
These days, however, he does not particularly consume stamina foods like these, and also doesn’t do vigorous exercise. Nevertheless, he never gets sick.
“It is important to look after your body when you are getting older, but I feel that good health in my younger days has stayed with me,” Sun said.
Before the All Star Game, Sun said he did not do much extra exercise. After the last game of the first half of the baseball season, he threw about 10 pitches in the bullpen at the request of reporters.
On the day of the All Star Game, he saw Samsung Lions coach Han Dai-hwa pitch a fastball at 35 kilometers per hour, and said to himself, “I’d better pitch better than that.”
Sun made his name when he was in primary school in his hometown of Gwangju and rose to national stardom in high school baseball competitions. Now, his team is at the top of the league heading into the season’s second half.
However, he has experienced difficult times as well. In 1996, Sun joined the professional baseball league in Japan, but poor performances led him to be sent to the minor league, where Japanese players ignored him even when he greeted them. “That was the first time that I did not want to play baseball. I felt ashamed. When I was on the bench, I was afraid to go to the bullpen,” he said.
He regained his form in that fall’s minor league, and made a comeback to the majors the following year. Sun said the setback helped him understand those in the minor league from a manager’s viewpoint.
Sun has changed the team’s style. Samsung players had emphasized individual skills and showmanship, but now the team focuses on team play. “Now I would give the team 80 points out of 100,” he said.
Toward the end of the interview, Sun responded rapidly to a series of short questions.
Q: At the end of the 9th inning, you are one run ahead, with the bases loaded, two out, with a full count, and Ichiro Suzuki (from the Seattle Mariners) is at bat. What is your pitch?
A: A high fastball close to the batter. That’s Ichiro’s weakness. (Sun answered quickly)
Pick a nickname out of sea squirt, bomber, Nagoya’s sun and national treasure.
National treasure. It is cool and honorable.
Who would you want to scout first, if you could scout all players?
Son Min-han (Lotte Giants). He is the best pitcher now.
Who is your best friend, not among baseball players?
My wife. I can talk about anything with her.
The answers all came out in three seconds. Sun was confident and had strong convictions: He was sure about what he was doing, where he was going and how he was going to get there.
by Lee Tai-il