Korea reels from shock WBC knockout

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Korea reels from shock WBC knockout

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Team Korea manager Ryu Joong-il, fourth from left, and his players walk off the field after Korea’s early knockout from the World Baseball Classic was confirmed at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan on Tuesday. The team did not advance even though it came from behind to beat Taiwan 3-2. They needed to win by at least six runs to advance. By Lee Ho-hyung

Korea’s worst performance ever in a World Baseball Classic is the predictable result of club-first selfishness and complacency that has gradually taken root in Korean baseball, according to two well-known Korean managers yesterday.

Team Korea, the 2009 runner-up and 2006 semifinalists, suffered a humiliating first-round exit in the third edition of the WBC, even though it came from behind to beat Taiwan 3-2 in their final Pool B game on Tuesday night.

Kim In-sik, who led Korea during the two previous editions of the competition, said that a lack of cooperation from the players and Korea Baseball Organization clubs weakened the national team.

“At the first event, we thought we were embarking into an uncharted realm, and the KBO and all the clubs and the people in it mustered the will,” Kim said.

He was referring to the fact that KBO managers such as Kim Jae-bak (then of the Hyundai Unicorns), Sun Dong-yul (then with the Samsung Lions), and Cho Bum-hyun (then-SK Wyverns manager), joined the coaching staff for the 2006 Team Korea. Ryu Joong-il, the manager of this year’s team, was also there in 2006, when he was an assistant coach for the Lions.

Almost every player playing abroad at the time also joined up including seven Major Leaguers. That added big names like Park Chan-ho, Kim Byung-hyun and Choi Hee-seop. Lee Seung-yeop joined from Japan.

“But beginning in the second edition, selection of the coaching staff didn’t go smoothly, and Park Chan-ho and Lee Seong-yeop sat out,” Kim said. “The attitude taken when preparing for the WBC has gradually changed.”

Only one Korean player overseas, Lee Dae-ho of Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, joined this year, with Choo Shin-soo and Ryu Hyun-jin opting to train with their MLB teams. Five KBO pitchers have also opted out, citing injuries.

Kim Sung-keun, the former SK Wyverns manager who led the club to three Korean Series titles, said that Korean baseball has been intoxicated with its success over the past few years. That includes Olympic gold from Beijing in 2008.

The KBO league has enjoyed double-digit growth for several consecutive years, bringing more than seven million spectators to stadiums for the first time last year.

“Several warning signs have arisen, but those involved in Korean baseball have been too complacent to see them,” Kim Sung-keun said.

But he said it’s not too late for Korea to learn its lesson. “I think the three games during the [2013] WBC shed some light on what Korean baseball lacks right now,” Kim said. “We should take this as an opportunity to improve.”

The motivation was also not strong enough, they said. The perk of military exemption, which was given to 11 Team Korea members during the 2006 WBC, was off the table this year.

The law in 2006 allowed exemptions for athletes who advanced to the semifinals or better at the WBC, or who won gold at the Asian Games or any medal at the Olympics.

Kim In-sik suggested that the KBO start discussions with the Korean Olympic Committee to give players a pension if they get a good outcome from a WBC.

“At an international game representing the country, all those involved in baseball need to come together and get results,” Kim In-sik said. “That’s how you develop Korean baseball.”


By Han Yong-sup, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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