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Turmoil brewing in baseball club over report of players' mutiny

All Headlines 11:32 October 29, 2014

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- Turmoil is brewing for the baseball club Lotte Giants following a media report on their players' mutiny over a managerial candidate who they argued is too tight with the front office for their liking.

On Monday, a local sports newspaper claimed players of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, in a meeting with the team president, Choi Ha-jin, who expressed "strong disapproval" of the managerial candidacy of their coach Kong Pil-sung.

The Giants' managerial position has been vacant since the end of the regular season on Oct. 17, when Kim Si-jin stepped down to take the fall for the club's underachieving season. The Giants finished seventh among nine clubs and missed the postseason for the second straight year.

According to the report, the Giants' players were against Kong's candidacy because he was essentially a company man who had sided with the management, not the players.

Later Monday, Park Joon-seo, the team captain, sent a group text message to the Giants' beat reporters, denying the report that the players had opposed Kong's candidacy.

Just when the story seemed headed for a harmless, "nothing to see here" conclusion -- with the principal party saying things were either blown out of proportion or taken out of context -- it took an abrupt turn for the bizarre.

Only a few hours after Park's message, the players issued a separate statement saying the text had been sent under pressure from the front office. The players also claimed that the team's management specifically wanted to see rebuttal of the initial report printed in other publications.

In their statement, the players also pinpointed to a specific front office official as the root of the problems that have troubled the club in recent years.

They claimed that since the official joined the front office, factions have been created in the club house, and the players and the coaches began to lose trust in each other.

They also said during the official's tenure, the players barely had a chance to negotiate their annual salaries and were only forced to agree to contracts offered by the team.

KBO players sign annual contracts after the end of each season until they become free agents after seven or eight seasons, depending on whether they've joined the league out of high school or college.

In essence, what started out as a 'who-said-what' story turned into a mud-slinging blame game, with Kong and the front office official threatening to take legal actions in separate interviews.

The players' problems with the management may well date back to the regular season. In May, bench coach Kwon Doo-jo abruptly resigned amid speculation that the players wanted nothing to do with his old-school ways.

With the club struggling in August, then manager Kim Si-jin apparently offered to resign. The front office reportedly planned to name Kong Pil-sung as interim manager, only to meet the players' opposition. Kim stayed on and managed the Giants through the end of the season.

A key foreign player for the Giants said he also sensed some trouble beneath the surface during the season.

"I've heard just a little about the issue," said Shane Youman, an American pitcher who's been with the Giants since 2012. "I don't really know how it brewed up, but I could feel some tension building during this past season."

Youman, who has won 38 games for the Giants in three seasons, said he wasn't always part of the players' meetings because of the language barrier and because of uncertain futures that foreign players in the KBO face each season.

Acknowledging that he doesn't have enough information on the ongoing saga, Youman added, "All I can say is that it's embarrassing if there's such turmoil going on within the Lotte Giants organization."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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