Lions and Eagles get hits in foreigner competition
Since 2011, Doosan Bears ace Nippert is 48-27 with an 3.27 ERA as of Wednesday. The now-retired Woods hit .294 with 174 home runs for the Bears from 1998 to 2002.
Since the KBO expanded the foreign player quota from two to three for each team this season, last winter was the hottest hot-stove season ever. It also served as a reminder that in baseball, things don’t always work out as planned.
One of the best imports this season is Samsung Lions second baseman Yamaico Navarro of the Dominican Republic. The infielder has been one of the league’s best leadoff hitters with a .317 average, 26 home runs, 18 stolen bases and a .427 on-base percentage (OBP) as of Wednesday. He is only two thefts away from becoming the 25th KBO player to steal 20 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season.
Three foreign players accomplished the feat: former Hanwha Eagle Jay Davis in 1999 and 2000; Manny Martinez in 2001 with the Lions; and Doug Clark with the Eagles in 2008 and Nexen Heroes in 2009.
If Navarro hits nine more home runs, he will surpass Hong Hyun-woo for the most in a KBO season by a second baseman. Hong hit 34 home runs for the Haitai Tigers in 1999.
Yet his numbers don’t tell the whole story. Navarro is a team player who always tries to engage with his teammates despite the language barrier. In batting practice prior to Wednesday’s game with the Lotte Giants at Busan, Navarro suddenly grabbed the bat from the fielding coach, Kim Yong-kuk, who was hitting fungoes, and started doing the coach’s job by hitting 50 to 60 fungoes for about 10 minutes. He giggled when teammates made mistakes and tried to lift everyone’s mood.
“I think he’s just playing,” said Lions shortstop Kim Sang-su, with a laugh. “I definitely don’t think he can be a fielding coach.”
Ryu Joong-il, manager of first-place Lions, is fond of Navarro as a player and a person. “I can’t ask anything more of him,” said Ryu. “He has been decent on the field all season long, and he has adapted to the totally new environment in a very short period of time. I’m certain he is the best import of the season.”
Down in Daejeon, outfielder Felix Pie is one of the few bright spots for the last-place Hanwha Eagles. The former Pittsburgh Pirate is hitting .329 - .318 with runners in scoring position - with 15 homers. Earlier this month, he donated 10 million won ($9,850) to 13-year-old Lee Young-chan, who was about to quit playing baseball because his father has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Pie visited the family in the hospital and played catch with the boy.
“I was very impressed,” said Eagles catcher Cho In-sung. “It made me think about what I’ve done for others during my career. I hope players in the KBO have learned something from Pie.” When he reached 2,000 total bases for his career on Aug. 22, Cho donated the bonus he received from the team to the ALS Foundation.
Two teams not so happy with their foreign players are the Lotte Giants and SK Wyverns. Luis Jimenez of Venezuela was expected to bring some middle-of-the-lineup power and RBIs to the Giants, and from his numbers - .329 with 14 homer and 56 RBIs as of Wednesday - it may appear as though he’s doing his job. But he has played in only 69 games due to a series of questionable injuries. Doctors have told the Giants there is nothing wrong with Jimenez, and it was later reported he had told a doctor there is a small hole in his knee bone.
Since the July 24 waiver deadline, the two places where Jimenez has been most visible were the hospital and swimming pool.
“The team is having a tough time in the middle of a battle to make it to the postseason,” a Giants spokesman said on the condition of anonymity. “Our entire staff, including the manger and even teammates, is disappointed with him. I think he is just waiting for the season to end so he can go back to his country.”
Former Major League Baseball player Luke Scott was expected to lead the SK Wyverns, but was waived in July after he publicly erupted at Manager Lee Man-soo over his injuries and physical rehabilitation regimen.
Scott said he had argued with Lee about his treatment. Scott’s face turned red and his voice grew so loud that even reporters sitting in the dugout could hear him. “Coward!” he yelled at the manager. “Liar!”
It was unacceptable behavior in Korea and Scott was soon gone, along with his .267 average and six homers in 33 games.
To make matters worse, Wyverns pitcher Ross Wolf returned to the United States earlier this month because of his son’s illness and many think he won’t return, even though the team dispatched operations chief Jin Sang-bong to the United States. After struggling in the rotation with a record of 1-2 and a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts, Lee used him as the closer and he had been impressive with a record of 1-0, four saves and no runs allowed in 10.2 innings. Wolf stayed with the team when his grandmother passed away during the preseason.
“We can’t criticize Wolf, but for Scott and Jimenez, clubs need to develop a specific plan when they negotiate with foreign players,” said SBS Sports baseball analyst Lee Soon-chul. “Because teams desperately want to bring in big-name players from overseas, they often are at a disadvantage during negotiations. They need to have contracts that will protect them from bad behavior by foreign players.”
BY KWON SANG-SOO AND LEE HYUNG-SUK [firstname.lastname@example.org]