“This is a team that I can compete with as a coach and as a man.”
Kim Tae-hyung, 56, the new Lotte manager, was still blunt. “The manager’s position is the envy of every baseball player,” he said on the 21st at the Sangdong Stadium in Gimhae, Gyeongnam, where he is directing the team’s final training. Especially Lotte, which is supported by the most passionate fans, is a team that I would like to manage if I were a baseball manager.”굿모닝토토
The ‘Lotte + Kim Tae-hyung’ rumor has been circulating in and around the club since the middle of this year’s regular season. After finishing seventh in the regular season and failing to make the postseason, Lotte handed Kim the reins immediately after the season ended, looking for a “championship hitman” to help the team turn things around. Kim, who served as a baseball commentator this year, is a “mastermind” who led Doosan to seven Korean Series appearances and won three of them during his eight-year stint as manager from 2015 to 2022.
Lotte has the longest championship drought among the 10 teams in the Korean Baseball Organization. They last won the Korean Series in 1992. They haven’t even made the postseason since 2017. With LG winning the Korean Series this year for the first time in 29 years, the spotlight is on Lotte.
Kim said the first step to the top is defense: “We didn’t have a lot of errors this year (103 – tied for third in fewest team errors). However, there were many games where the team collapsed after a crucial defensive mistake. A strong defense makes the team stronger and more cohesive.”
As soon as Kim took over the reins of Lotte, he brought in head coach Kim Min-jae, fielding coach Kim Min-ho, and infield coach Ko Young-min. All are defense specialists. Kim was a national team shortstop who played in the inaugural World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2006. Min-ho Kim and Ko won Golden Gloves as shortstop and second baseman, respectively, during their playing days.
Lotte has a big hole in its infield after second baseman Ahn Chi-hong, who is eligible for free agency after this season, moved to Hanwha. “We need Park Seung-wook, Noh Jin-hyuk, Lee Hak-joo, and Han Dong-hee to hold down the fort,” Kim said, adding that second-year rookie Jeong Dae-sun and Lee Joo-chan, who returned from military service, are also resources to help defend the infield.
In Kim’s opinion, the Lotte team he saw during his time as a commentator lacked the strength to come back from a crisis. After a brief run at the top of the standings earlier this season, Lotte slipped in the early summer and never rebounded. Year after year, Lotte has been nicknamed “Bomde” (Lotte only does well in the spring) because of its early season sparkle, only to end the season at the bottom of the standings.
“In times of crisis, the leader must set the tone for the team,” Kim said, “and the players must follow the leader and move in unison to become a strong team.” Kim named Jeon Jun-woo, 37, as the team’s leader. Joon-woo, who signed his second free agent contract for a total of 4.7 billion won ($4.7 million) over four years and will remain the “eternal Lotte man,” will serve as captain next season and lead the younger players.
“With two foreign pitchers, Park Se-woong and Na Kyun-an, the pitching staff is calculated,” Kim said. If the younger players like Na Seung-yeop, Kim Min-seok, and Yoon Dong-hee develop well, we will have a great challenge.” He also expressed confidence that “if we reach the fall baseball season, which is our primary goal for next year, we can aim for the championship in the short-term postseason.”
Lotte announced the appointment of Kim Yong-hee (68), chairman of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), as the head coach of the Futures (2nd team) on Sunday. The club made the decision after discussions with Kim. “When I was coaching at SK (now SSG), Kim Yong-hee was the manager of SK’s second team, and we talked a lot about baseball,” Kim said, “and I thought he was the right person to create a proper system for the second team, which needs to be nurtured.” He also recruited Il Gu Chairman Kim Kwang-soo (64), who was his ‘bangjang’ as a player, as a bench coach. “Over the course of a season, unexpected things happen,” he said, “and we can borrow the wisdom of our seniors.