Tigers get an early start on protest season

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Tigers get an early start on protest season


Kia Tigers fans protest in front of Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Saturday, demanding the resignation of manager Kim Ki-tai. [NEWS1]

The Kia Tigers may have missed out on the postseason this year, but their fans have found a way to pass the time - by protesting to demand the resignation of manager Kim Ki-tai.

As well as a disappointing season - the reigning champions crashed out of the wildcard after losing to the Nexen Heroes - fans are particularly upset about Kim’s decision to release veteran pitcher Lim Chang-yong.

Lim finished the season with five wins, five losses and four holds with a 5.42 ERA, and the Tigers didn’t wait long before announcing on Oct. 24 that they have decided not to renew his contract. Although Lim’s seasonal statistics are not great, he still played an important role in the team throughout the season, appearing as a starter, relief pitcher and closer.

During the Tigers’ game against the Lotte Giants on Aug. 1, Lim picked up a win for the first time since 2007, and of the five wins he picked up this season, three were in games he won as a starter. At age 42, Lim became the second oldest starting pitcher, after Song Jin-woo, now the Hanwha Eagles coach, to pick up a win in the KBO.

As the Tigers didn’t have the strongest team of pitchers, Lim played a significant role in helping the team reach the wildcard. The decision to immediately drop him angered fans, with about 50 people gathering outside Gwangju-Kia Champions Field chanting “Kim Ki-tai out” on Saturday.

Kim invited three fans into his office and met with them for about 40 minutes, presumably to explain his reasoning. The move didn’t work, as the group plans to continue their protest.

The anti-Kim sentiment continues among Kia fans online. A Naver blog calling for Kim’s resignation now has 12,000 members, and petitions requesting Kim’s resignation have also sprung up on the Blue House’s online petition board.

Postseason protests have become a regular feature of the KBO over the last four years. Starting in 2014, when one lone Hanwha Eagles fan began protesting outside Hanwha Group’s headquarters, fans have regularly turned out to rally against managerial decisions they disagree with.

Last season, hundreds of Doosan Bears fans turned out to demand the club bring back longtime pitcher Dustin Nippert, who now plays for the KT Wiz. They weren’t the only supporters braving the cold outside Jamsil Stadium - LG Twins’ fans were also out protesting their manager’s decision to make a generation change and drop most of the team’s veteran players.

The Twins protest last year was very similar to the Tigers complaints this year. The generation change that the Twins’ leadership was pushing for did not pay dividends, angering supporters. The story hasn’t changed this year. The Twins, still under the leadership of general manager Yang Sang-moon, finished eighth in the league.

“The way baseball fans express their opinions has changed from the past,” said Min Hoon-ki, a baseball commentator. “During the 1980s to ‘90s, when the team the fans cheered for lost, they sometimes set the bus on first or burst onto the field. But since the candlelight protest, the baseball fans, too, have gotten a lot less aggressive and are more organized.”

Although the fans have gotten a lot less aggressive in their way of protesting, the number has increased since the one-man protest in 2014. At the time, the Eagles actually ended up appointing a new manager, although not thanks to the protest. Still, the idea that the protest paid off inspired other fans to make their voices heard.

While the majority of fans seem to encourage the Tiger protest, some argue that it is a little too extreme.

“It’s disappointing to see Lim Chang-yong leave, but it’s even more disappointing to see the fans protest about this,” said a Tigers fan.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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