Twins’ boss predicted, achieved success
Fans of the LG Twins may have been the saddest people in baseball in the last decade. Their team failed to advance to the postseason of the Korea Baseball Organization for 10 straight seasons and most of their investments on free agents never worked out. It was painful for the fans to watch their Seoul rival, the Doosan Bears, consistently competing in the postseason with a decent farm system they developed with dozens of young stars, such as left fielder Kim Hyun-soo and shortstop Son Si-heon, who signed with the NC Dinos in this hot stove season.
After another poor season in 2011, the Twins appointed 43-year-old Kim Ki-tae, a star player-turned-coach as their new manager after firing Park Jong-hoon, 52. Kim was the first lefty home run king in the history of the KBO, with 25 home runs in 1994, and was once the captain of three teams: the Ssangbangwool Raiders, Samsung Lions and SK Wyverns. He was also the captain of the Korean national baseball team in many international events, but analysts and fans worried that Kim was too young to lead the team.
However, the Twins finished the regular season in second place this year, behind the Lions, and made it to the postseason for the first time in 11 years. During the season, the Twins attracted 1.3 million fans, the most in franchise history. The Twins were once known as a team full of selfish players who cared more about their personal statistics than team’s wins, but they showed that they are united as a team. Analysts and fans say the person who has united the Twins is Kim, who has been more like a big brother than a powerful leader. Ilgan Sports met with Kim before Christmas to listen to his philosophy of running a ball club.
Q. What was your happiest and most regrettable moments this season?
A. The day that we clinched a spot for the postseason by beating the NC Dinos on Sept. 22. The most regrettable moment was, of course, when we were eliminated in the second round of the postseason by losing Game 4 against the Bears on Oct. 20. I still think we tried our best, but it just didn’t work out.
Before the season began, what was the team’s expectation?
The reason I suggested that Twins fans buy some postseason gear, including a warm-up jacket, in the media day event that was held ahead of the season opening, was because I was confident of clinching a postseason spot. Many analysts predicted that the Twins would finish in seventh or eighth place among nine teams, just like the 2012 season, but I thought the team was getting better. One of the examples was acquiring a veteran free agent reliever, Jong Hyun-wook, who certainly had a huge role in our bullpen.
In the last two seasons, you always sat on a small folding chair in the dugout, rather than on a wide and comfortable manager-only seat that has armrests.
I can’t sit tight in chairs with armrests. I think sitting in a correct and stiff posture gives me good and right ideas in the dugout. If I sit askew, especially in a losing game, players might think that the coaching staff has already given up on the game.
How much do you think a manager can influence a team in a ball game?
I have one belief in running a team. If a team wins, it’s because the players played right, and if a team loses, it’s because a manager did something wrong. It is a manager’s job to develop a “winning circumstance.”
Could you be more specific about those roles?
I mean the manager should manage to win, not manage to save his job. It means that managers need to sacrifice many things. Some managers are more afraid of getting criticized by analysts and fans than losing games. Those managers rely on a few players who perform relatively better than others in important situations because they want to show they are making the right decisions, but such things later impact the team badly, for sure.
[It isn’t hard to find Kim saying, “Everything was my fault” in a post-game interview when the Twins lost. He earned trust not only from the team’s front office, but also from players and fans. Rather than a powerful military general leading from in front of the troops, he was more like the players’ big brother, supporting them from behind.]
Why do you think the Twins did a good job this season?
I think each player must be treated fairly, at least on the field, because they wear the same uniform. Of course, some of them receive more money than others, but that is an off-the-field issue that I don’t care about. I only look at the players’ abilities on the field. It doesn’t matter how old a player is or how much money he receives from the team.
Because the SK Wyverns were a strong contender in the last few seasons under manager Kim Sung-keun, many teams tended to spend more time on training hard.
If you are a man on a 25-man roster, you sometimes need more time to think about yourself and about the plays you make, rather than just practicing. People say studying before and after taking a class is important. It applies to baseball, too. Players need to study about their opponents and their performances before and after a game. And because they are human, they could feel like they want to take a day off. If I force players to practice habitually, practicing baseball might become boring for them.
Do want to say anything to fans?
When I was selected as the manager, many fans opposed the decision. But most of them now support me and some of them even sent me handwritten letters. I think that explains everything.
BY KIM SIK, KWON SANG-SOO [email@example.com]