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(LEAD) Late baseball commentator's legacy tainted with fraud allegations

All News 15:13 September 08, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS comments from baseball community at bottom)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- Ha Il-sung, once a popular baseball color commentator found dead Thursday, saw his legacy tainted in his late years as he faced multiple fraud allegations.

The 67-year-old was found dead in his Seoul office by an employee. The apparent suicide came on the heels of an indictment over fraud charges in late July.

Ha had also faced fraud allegations in November 2015, an ironic development because he had been named the honorary ambassador for the National Police Agency seven months earlier and had been tasked with raising awareness of voice phishing scams.

Weeks before fresh fraud charges emerged in July, Ha was investigated for aiding and abetting impaired driving when his wife got into an accident under the influence with Ha in the passenger seat.

Well before he found his name in these police reports, though, Ha had been an iconic baseball commentator on television.

He began playing baseball in high school but quit the sport while in college. He later said he didn't feel he was made for a team sport.

Ha took a job as a phys-ed teacher after college and got into broadcasting in 1979.

Then with the launch of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the top professional league, and his move to KBS, a major terrestrial network, Ha's career took off.

This file photo, dated Oct. 15, 2009, shows former baseball commentator Ha Il-sung speaking at a lecture in Gwangju. Ha, 67, was found dead in his office in Seoul on Sept. 8, 2016. (Yonhap)

Ha built his reputation for correctly guessing pitch types during telecasts. Whenever he was wrong, Ha still endeared himself to viewers by saying, "Well, you just never know in baseball."

Ha developed into an omnipresent figure on talk shows, too. Then in May 2006, Ha was named the secretary-general of the KBO, the first ex-commentator to take over the job.

He was the national team general manager when South Korea won the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medal and again when it finished second at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

After the Olympic victory, Ha once said, "When I die, I hope my epitaph will say, 'General Manager of the Beijing Olympic Champion.'"

Ha left the KBO in March 2009 and returned to broadcasting. By then, the KBO coverage expanded to cable television, with a handful of young former KBO and major league players having taken over the booths. Ha never regained his past glory.

Condolences for Ha poured in from the baseball community.

Heo Koo-youn, Ha's long-time TV rival, said he was "shocked" to hear the news of Ha's passing.

"I heard he was going through some difficult times, and I can't imagine how tough things must have been for him," Heo said. "We've been pushing each other for years. Like he often said with baseball, you just never know what's going to happen in life."

Jeong Geum-jo, head of baseball operations at the KBO who worked with Ha, said the late Ha "had tremendous passion for baseball."

"Winning the Beijing Olympic gold medal with nine consecutive victories is his greatest accomplishment," Jeong added. "Without his drive and enthusiasm, it would have been difficult to win the gold."

Kim In-sik, KBO's technical director, said he always fed off Ha's positive energy.

"We go way back to our high school days, and we've been through a lot together," Kim said. "He was always a delightful person to be around, and he had a lot of fans. I still can't believe he's gone."

The Korea Professional Baseball Players Association issued a statement commemorating Ha's place in South Korean baseball history.

"Professional baseball players shall never forget his contribution to the development of baseball in the country," the statement added.

Before five KBO games on Thursday, home teams will display a message of condolence for Ha on their scoreboards and observe a moment of silence.


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