In the 2023 season in South Korean baseball, perhaps no manager will be under as much spotlight and scrutiny as the Doosan Bears' first-year skipper, Lee Seung-yuop.
It comes with the territory of being one of the greatest players in Korea Baseball Organization history. Lee is the league's career home run leader with 467 and also owns the single-season record with 56 from the 2003 season. He is also the only five-time regular season most valuable player in league history.
All eyes will be on Lee as he tries to bring the Bears, who missed the postseason last year after a record seven consecutive trips to the Korean Series, back to respectability. Whether the legendary former player can have similar success as manager will be one of the most fascinating storylines of the 2023 season.
In a phone conversation with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday, though, Lee said he'd like his players to take center stage.
"Perhaps because of my presence, I think our team will draw more attention when we struggle than when we play well," Lee said. "When that happens, I will try to be the shield for my players. And when we play well, I hope our players will get all the spotlight. They are the main actors on the field. I've been telling the guys that I am here to help them, and they're the main characters."
Lee, 46, retired after the 2017 season. Many of the current KBO players either played with or against him, or at least grew up watching Lee play or hearing about his offensive prowess. A manager of Lee's stature can be intimidating for young players, and Lee said he wants to keep an open line of communication with his players.
"I'd like my players to be able to come talk to me about problems away from the field, even the types they wouldn't tell their friends," Lee said. "Sometimes, personal issues can get in the way of performance on the field. I've played for and learned from many different managers. And considering my personality, I think it will help the team if I can become a manager that players feel comfortable to talk to."
Lee said his main objective for 2023 is to put his players in a position to succeed by doing what they do best.
"This is a team that swings hard and runs hard. That's the impression I had from all those years of watching them as an opponent," said Lee, who spent his entire 15-year KBO career with the Samsung Lions. "I want to create an environment where they can just go out there and play hard."
Following his retirement, Lee had spent time as a television analyst and a technical committee member for the KBO. He also dabbled at TV variety shows but had no prior coaching experience, let alone managing gigs, before taking the Bears job last October.
Lee said he fully understands criticism that his lack of managing experience will work against him in the first year.
"I am bound to make mistakes along the way, but if I am prepared, I should be able to minimize them," Lee said. "I will try to make people forget that I am a rookie manager."
Lee first worked with the Bears during the end-of-season training camp from October to November. Clubs are currently in the official inactive period, during which no official team training activities are permitted. The Bears will travel to Sydney on Jan. 29 and open training camp there on Feb. 1.
"I had so much fun with my players and coaches during the season-ending camp. But now, time has been going by so slowly," Lee said. "I am really looking forward to spring training. I can't wait to see my players." (Yonhap)