“I didn’t expect it at all.”
No one expects to be booed at their postseason debut, but that’s exactly what Doosan Bears head coach Lee Seung-yeop faced after the team lost 2-3 to the SSG Landers in Jamsil on Nov. 16, clinching fifth place in the regular season. Lee and the team vowed to do their best to climb higher in the fall. As Lee was shown on the scoreboard, some fans in the stands booed loudly. It was the result of fans who were unhappy with Lee’s baseball in 144 games this year.
Doosan finished ninth last year,스포츠토토 its lowest ranking in franchise history. The team that made history by becoming the first KBO club to reach the Korean Series seven years in a row from 2015 to 2021 dropped to ninth place in one fell swoop, with fans applauding rather than booing. Fans applauded rather than booed the team because they understood the players’ exhaustion from playing until the last possible moment every year for seven consecutive years, and the team was getting weaker and weaker as its main players Kim Hyun-soo (LG), Min Byung-heon (retired), Oh Jae-il (Samsung), Choi Joo-hwan (SSG), Yang Ji Yong-chan, and Park Gun-woo (NC) left for free agency. It was natural for fans to think, “It’s a good thing they lasted this long.” Last year, there was no place for former coach Kim Tae-hyung to say goodbye in the final game, but there were no boos from the stands.
Doosan had to save their pride, but they also felt the need to catch the fans who were turning away as their main players left one after another. That’s why they brought in Yang-ji An, who was released by the NC before the season, for 4+2 years and 15.2 billion won, the most expensive free agent contract in history. They also made a change in leadership. By appointing legendary Lee Seung-yeop, who was known as the “national hitter” during his playing days, as head coach, Doosan hoped to bring a new breeze to the team.
Doosan had high hopes for Lee. He was one of Korea’s leading home run hitters, and with his extensive experience in Nippon Professional Baseball, they thought he would be able to play a sophisticated game of tactical baseball. They also hoped that the baseball of Lee Seung-yeop, a manager who has never lifted the veil, would bring something fresh to the KBO.
However, he was unable to fulfill all of his expectations from the first year. Lee started the season with a bunch of youngsters, including Lee Yoo-chan, Ahn Jae-seok, Yang Chan-yeol, Kim Dae-woo, and Song Seung-hwan, but they didn’t develop as much as he hoped. Ahn Jae-seok and Kim Dae-hyun, the two most trusted first-round picks, were unable to untangle the tangled threads of injuries by the end of the season, while the rest of the team’s inexperienced tee didn’t allow them to get much of a chance until the mid-to-late season, when the battle for the top spot heated up. On the mound, Kim Dong-ju was a revelation, but the bullpen of Lee Byung-hun, Choi Ji-kang, and Kim Yoo-sung, which was supposed to be used in critical situations, failed to deliver. The season could have been even tougher if infielder Park Joon-young and pitcher Lee Young-ha, who were not at full strength in spring training, hadn’t returned from their respective rehabilitation and trials to provide a boost.
As a result, the team’s reliance on veterans increased dramatically in the middle of the season. On the outfield, Kim Jae-ho, Heo Kyung-min, Yang Ji, Jeong Soo-bin, and Yang Seok-hwan had to keep playing, while Kim Jae-hwan watched the situation from the sidelines and missed the time to reorganize in the second team.
Pil Seung-jo was overloaded. He used Kim Myung-shin, Hong Gun-hee, and Jeong Chul-won in every close game throughout the season and often gave them multi-inning assignments. At the end of the season, when it mattered most in the race for the top spot, all three pitchers were used up, leaving the team without a closer at the end. Neither Hong Gun-hee nor Chung Chul-won were able to close, so the team was forced to bring in immediate relievers like Kim Kang-ryul, Kim Myung-shin, and Park Chi-guk. The collapse of the pitching staff was the biggest reason why the Bears fell out of the fight for third place.
It was a difficult season to see the colors of Doosan’s baseball and Lee’s baseball. As a result of emphasizing one-base baseball from spring training, the team ranked second in the league with 133 stolen bases, and Jung Soo-bin became the first player to lead the league in stolen bases with 39. We finished ninth with a .255 team batting average and eighth with a .332 on-base percentage, so we let anyone get on base. It wasn’t that we were looking for small ball, but we had no choice.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t hit home runs. With 100 team home runs, they were tied for third in the league with the Hanwha Eagles. Four of their main hitters hit double-digit home runs, including Yang Seok-hwan (21), Jose Rojas (19), Yang Ji (17), and Kim Jae-hwan (10).
However, the offense has struggled to score runs. Doosan ranked eighth in the league with 620 runs scored. The team runs a lot and hits some big balls, but it’s not very nutritious. If you think it’s the job of a leader to increase the nutritional value, it’s true that there was a lot to be desired.
The fans’ booing was born out of dissatisfaction. The fans booed out of dissatisfaction, as they missed countless opportunities to finish the season higher than fifth place. It can be said that the fans’ expectations are high after experiencing the Korean Series for seven consecutive years, but it is the fate of a baseball manager to fulfill those expectations.
Doosan will play the first game of the wild card deciding series against the NC Dinos at Changwon NC Park on the 19th. NC, in fourth place, starts the series with a one-game advantage. Doosan must win the first game to qualify for the semifinals with two wins, while NC can win one game, draw one game, or lose one game to advance to the semifinals. The one-game advantage is significant enough that the fifth-place team hasn’t missed the semifinals since the wild-card format was created in 2015.
A pennant race is one thing, a shortened season is another. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Lee’s experience over the past 144 games is a zero base for the postseason. In a shortened series, the focus of the players and the determination of the manager are often the difference between winning and losing. In his postseason debut, can Lee shake off the regular season disappointment and turn the fans’ boos into applause? He has one game to make amends this year, and he needs to capitalize on it.