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New manager vows to put spotlight on players for struggling ball club

Sports 15:02 November 18, 2018

SUWON, South Korea, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- Long-time coach Lee Kang-chul was inaugurated as the new manager of the KT Wiz on Sunday, taking over a Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club that has finished in last place in three of its first four seasons.

In his introductory press conference at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, Lee said he is ready to put the team through a complete makeover.

"Because the team has struggled so much over the first four seasons, I think the players may have lost confidence," Lee said. "We need to embrace our challenges and we shouldn't be afraid of making changes. And I'll be working closely with my coaching staff and the front office to that end."

Lee Kang-chul, new manager of the KT Wiz baseball club, attends his introductory press conference at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Yonhap)

Lee, who'd been a coach for three different clubs over 13 years, agreed to a three-year deal worth 1.2 billion won (US$1.1 million) last month. He was then serving as the bench coach for the Doosan Bears, and Lee's switch was made official after the Bears lost to the SK Wyverns in the Korean Series last Monday.

Lee, 52, is succeeding Kim Jin-wook, who stepped down on Oct. 18 after two seasons. The Wiz went 59-82-3 (wins-losses-ties) to finish ninth among 10 clubs in 2018, their fourth KBO season. They had won 50, 53 and 52 games in each of the three previous seasons to rank dead last.

Lee said a professional ball club "must be able to produce the best results possible in whatever situation it's in," and said he will try to put players in spots where they will be able to maximize their abilities.

"Our team should be about the players, not the manager or the coaches," Lee said. "Along with my coaches and the front office, I'll try to steer them in the right direction. And I won't be delivering any message to players through the media. If I have something to say, I'll speak to them directly."

Lee said his primary goal is to make the postseason. In the KBO, the top five teams reach the playoffs each year, with the fourth- and the fifth-seeded teams facing each other in the wild card game.

"We have a young team, and these young players need postseason experience to grow," Lee said. "It will give them a sense of accomplishment. And there's no better way to return the love and support of our fans than to reach the postseason."

After his press conference, Lee flew to Miyazaki, Japan, to join the Wiz in their end-of-season training camp, with fringe players and minor league prospects in action.

Lee Kang-chul, new manager of the KT Wiz baseball club, poses with a ball after his introductory press conference at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Yonhap)

Lee was a star submarine pitcher for 16 seasons, starting in 1989, for the Haitai (now Kia) Tigers. He won 10 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons from 1989 to 1998 and was voted the Korean Series MVP in 1996.

He has previously served as pitching coach for the Tigers and bench coach for the Nexen Heroes. He was the Bears' minor league manager in 2017 before becoming their bench coach in 2018.

The Wiz are the fourth club to make a managerial change this offseason, joining the NC Dinos and the Lotte Giants, two other non-playoff teams, and the champions Wyverns.

For the Wyverns, their former manager Trey Hillman returned home to the United States to spend more time with his family. General manager Yeom Kyung-yup came down from the front office to succeed Hillman last week.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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