“As soon as I quit coaching SK Wyverns, I went to Laos on November 12, 2014. To be honest, I tried to come back to the field in a cool way after hearing some talk about ‘donating talent in a wasteland of baseball’. A month later, when I said goodbye and turned around, the small-sized child said, ‘Ajjang (teacher in Laos), let’s play baseball with us.’ It was the first time I had seen an angel since I was born. I made up my mind at that moment. He said that he would dedicate the rest of his life to spreading baseball in Southeast Asia and playing baseball with these children.”
‘Hulk’ director Lee Man-soo has been keeping that promise for 10 years. He made a team and built a baseball field by supplying baseball to Laos, where there was no word ‘baseball’. He formed the Laos Baseball Association and competed in the 2018 Asian Games. Vietnam is also distributing baseball in the same way. From February 24 to 26, the first international competition will be held in Laos, featuring four countries from the Indochina Peninsula (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). As the chairman of the Hulk Foundation, he travels around the country to donate talent and help baseball organizations for the disabled.
Lee Man-soo is the originator of the ‘offensive catcher’ who has the record for the first hit, RBI, and home run in professional baseball. He played 16 years only for the Samsung Lions, and also experienced winning the World Series as a coach for the Chicago White Sox in the major leagues. I met director Lee Man-soo, who has transformed into an evangelist of sharing and generosity, at a studio in Gangseo-gu, Seoul.
It is rewarding to see children whose dreams have changed through baseball
Q: You’ve heard a lot of “If you play baseball, do you get rice or rice cake?”
A: “That’s right. In fact, it is pouring water into a bottomless dock. I don’t get paid, but I spend more than twice as much. About three years after I started promoting in Laos, I asked her wife, ‘What did you eat when you’ve been giving away all this time?’ Her wife said, ‘When she really can’t lift a spoon, she’ll tell you, so until then, you can work as much as you like. She said, ‘You have to give back the love she received from baseball all her life. So I created a foundation by donating the 400 million won I received from filming two TV commercials at the time.”
Q: What has changed for children through baseball?
A : “When I first came to Laos, I asked the children, ‘What is your dream?’ I was shocked when he said, ‘Eating three meals a day is my dream’. After that, I took about 20 people to Busan to see the sea, and when I came to Incheon, I had them do a homestay with the help of my church. After finishing the 3 nights and 4 days schedule, I returned to Laos with the crying children saying that I would not go, but when I asked again a few months later, my dreams had all changed. ‘I want to become a politician and change a country dominated by the military’, ‘I will become a doctor who heals people who are dying because there are no hospitals’, ‘I will make a lot of money and make our country prosperous’. I felt very rewarded because I thought, ‘Oh, I can change the lives of children through baseball.’”
Lee Man-soo started playing baseball in the first year of middle school, later than his peers, and missed a year. It is said that his father, a professional soldier who was ‘a tiger ideal’, would cut his bat with an ax if he did not exercise properly. He promised to sleep only 4 hours a day and wake up at 4 am to practice. He is said to have been nicknamed ‘double nosebleeds’ at that time because he often had nosebleeds because he was so tired. Director Lee said, “After 11 years of middle school, high school, and university, it became a habit and I still don’t sleep more than six hours a day.” 바카라사이트
Q: What other habits did you have?
A : “I come out before the group exercise and do gymnastics for 30 minutes. I think I would be stiff, but I am flexible enough that my legs and chest stick together. So I didn’t have any major injuries until I retired. When I meet dream trees, they say, ‘Write a diary, write a baseball journal’. I have to keep a record so I know my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to improve on. I also recommend reading best sellers or autobiographies of famous people to learn about other people’s lives.”
Q: You trained to catch the serve of your younger sister, who is a tennis player.
A: “My younger brother was a national representative and his serve is over 200km per hour. I hit a ball that bounced with a bat, but I couldn’t even hit it for several days. After about a month, I chip away at everything. When I went to the major leagues, there was a pitching machine that shoots tennis balls at speeds of over 300 km per hour. What’s even more surprising is that the ball is colored, and the player has to figure out what color it is. That’s what I did without knowing the training to strengthen dynamic vision. haha.”
Q: I heard that your calluses popped because you practiced so much.
A : “Even at our time, we didn’t have baseball gloves, so when we practice batting with our bare hands, calluses accumulate. In winter, blisters form, and after a few more times, you can see the white bones. I saw in a book that senior Japanese batting champion Jang Hoon practiced with a bicycle tube wrapped around it, and I tried it. After a few swings, blood flowed from the calluses and it became slippery. At that time, I rubbed my hands in the briquette ash that was still warm and continued swinging.”
Q: You were the best at raising hitters. what did you talk about
A : “At our time, I was influenced by Japanese baseball, so I said catchers should use their ‘teeth’ well. To Kim Bong-yeon, ‘Senior, I went on a date with a certain girl last night, and I tell my sister-in-law everything’, ‘What, is this XX?’ excited while doing it. To Kim Woo-yeol, ‘Hyung, what are you doing? I lost my hair at this age,’ and to senior manager Baek In-cheon, who was a player, ‘Coach, we have to eat and live. You come all the way to Korea and come here.”
Because of his friend Choi Dong-won, his career batting average could not exceed 30%.
Q: Did you get a lot of retaliation for the loud home run ceremony?
A : “I heard that Choi Jeong (SSG) set a world record for a body-fitting ball, but I would have been hit more with the beanball (threat ball). After hitting a home run, if you come in dancing while singing hurray, a beanball will fly right into the next at-bat. But this is heaven. I thought, ‘It’s good, but I have to express it as good’. Because of that nature, I think I was able to do well in American life and Southeast Asian baseball. Right now, it’s right not to do things that stimulate each other.”
Q: I heard that the hardest thing to hit was Choi Dong-won’s ball?
A : “Choi Dong-won is my friend. When I was in middle school, a friend with glasses threw the ball too fast during Saturn in Busan. Dongwon’s curves don’t curve left and right, but drop from above, so it’s very difficult to hit. My professional batting average is 0.296, but because of Dongwon, I forgot my batting average, so I couldn’t get past 30% (laughs). When Dongwon was fighting cancer, I stayed on the bed until the end, and I remember crying out loud when my mother said, ‘I hope you can make Dongwon’s unfulfilled dreams come true.’”
In May 2007, professional baseball was shaken up with SK head coach Lee Man-soo’s ‘Panty Ceremony’. Coach Lee jokingly said, “If Munhak Stadium is full, I will go around the playground wearing only underpants.” He said, “I heard from his wife and son, ‘Are you crazy? I said it would never happen,” he recalled at the time.
Q: I ended up having a panty ceremony.
A : “On May 26, which was D-day, people flocked like a cloud before the KIA Tigers, and before the first inning was over, ‘today’s game is full’ appeared. After the 5th episode, I was changing into the ‘monkey panties’ that I had hung up in the locker, and there was a rush to come out quickly. The club recruited 22 members of the ‘Lee Man-soo Guard’, but they were all filled in 5 minutes. With them, 30,000 spectators gave a standing ovation, and female fans were crying everywhere.”
Q: What did the tears mean?
A : “It must have been impressive to see him keep his promise. I saw the honesty of a man who tried to keep his words, even as a joke, in a world where people overturned what he said. At that time, Korean society was split in half. The side said, ‘Lee Man-soo is ignorant, so he’ll wear pants and run’, and the side said, ‘What’s wrong with a star who even coached the World Series winning team?’”
Q: You have been awarding the Lee Man-soo catcher-home run award for high school players for six years.
A : “When I said I was going to make a catcher, people around me stopped me. Catchers weren’t popular. However, fans began to realize that ‘strong teams have good catchers’, and Yang Eui-ji hit the FA jackpot in 2019 (4 years total of 12.5 billion won). This season, four players (Park Dong-won, Park Se-hyeok, Yang Eui-ji, and Yoo Kang-nam) signed free agent contracts worth 34.3 billion won, opening the ‘heyday of catchers’. Catcher Kim Beom-seok (Gyeongnam High School → LG), who received the Lee Man-soo Home Run Award last year, will become a great player that surpasses me.”
I asked what the conditions of a good catcher were. Director Lee’s answer did not deviate from the ‘basic’. “First, you have to get it right. There are too many fastballs (where the catcher misses the ball) in professional baseball. Second, you have to throw well. Whether it’s a throw to second base or a check on first base, you have to be quick and accurate. Third, it must be well blocked. Surprisingly, there are a lot of professional players who have the wrong blocking moves, but young people imitate them. The footsteps of the person in front become the path of the person behind.”