SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- When South Korean pitching legend Sun Dong-yol was announced as the first full-time manager of the national team Monday, he knew he was taking on a position fraught with risks.
Sun, 54, has little to gain and much more to lose, as he's been tasked with guiding the team through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The baseball-crazed nation saw its once-proud national team bow out of the first round at this year's World Baseball Classic (WBC) at home, and the disappointing result further motivated Sun, who was a pitching coach on that team, to take on the managerial position.
"Managing the national team is a risky proposition, but someone has to do it," Sun told Yonhap News Agency in an interview Thursday. "I feel a burden of responsibility, but I felt I had to take on the job. The national team needs a redemption."
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), which operates the professional leagues and handles national team affairs, had previously went with different managers for different international tournaments. Managers of KBO clubs, often the reigning league champions, took on the role, but at offseason tournaments, those managers balked at taking on the national team because they wanted to focus on getting their pro teams ready for the season.
Former KBO manager Kim In-sik, who'd last managed in the pros in 2009, was all but forced into the national team job at the 2015 Premier 12 and then the 2017 WBC. When Kim, 70, announced his retirement following South Korea's early exit from the WBC, the KBO chose Sun to be the full-time boss to ensure more stability and continuity over a handful of international events in the next three or so years.
Sun's first will make his international managerial debut at the inaugural Asia Professional Baseball Challenge from Nov. 16 to 19 at the Tokyo Dome. The new event will feature players from South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei, and will be limited to players under 24 or to those with under three years of professional experience.
Sun has said he'll stay committed to the national team through 2020 and not think about getting back to the KBO. As a KBO manager, Sun led the Samsung Lions to back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006, and to a runner-up finish in 2010. The Lions reached the playoffs in five out of six seasons on Sun's watch.
Sun's last KBO managing job came with the Kia Tigers in 2014.
"I think that if I don't lead the national team to good results, I may not even get offers from professional teams," Sun said. "So it's not an easy situation, but I am going to try to live with it."
Sun said he's looking forward to working with young players at the Asia Professional Baseball Challenge. He acknowledged the need to bring new faces into the national team fold but said he's not going to force the issue when it comes to the changing of the guard.
"If these young players compete in a place like Tokyo Dome, it will be a great experience for them," Sun said. "I think this competition will ultimately be the chance for players to showcase themselves for next year's Asian Games and then the Olympics in 2020 as well. I am hoping a few of the players will get to stay on the national team for all of those events."
Sun said his approach to managing his roster will be quite different from the one he had while on pro clubs. A former starting pitcher himself, Sun said there's a lot riding on the shoulders of a starter in tournament settings.
"If a starter struggles, then we'll need the bullpen to keep the opponents off the board for two to three innings and keep the team in the game," Sun said. "When you pit the best against the best in international tournaments, it's not easy to rally from deficits of two or three runs. My focus as the national team manager will be on when to send in which pitchers in what situations."
Sun is widely considered the greatest KBO pitcher ever. He won three MVP awards and posted a 1.20 ERA for his career in 1,647 innings while starring for the Haitai (now Kia) Tigers. He went 146-40 and also recorded 132 saves, racked up mostly during his second life as a closer.
Sun pitched 11 seasons with the Tigers starting in 1985, before moving to Japan. From 1996 to 1999 with the Chunichi Dragons in the Nippon Professional Baseball, Sun collected 98 saves and had a 2.70 ERA.
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