(LEAD) Kia Tigers promote hitting coach Lee Bum-ho as new manager

SEOUL, The South Korean baseball club Kia Tigers announced Tuesday they have promoted hitting coach Lee Bum-ho as their new manager. Lee, 42, will be the youngest manager in the 10-team Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) this season, after signing a two-year deal worth 900 million won (US$677,040), 300 million won of which is a signing bonus. Lee will replace Kim Jong-kook, who was fired Jan. 29 while facing a criminal investigation over bribery charges. Lee has been working with hitters at the Tigers' spring training site in Canberra since the start of this month and will shift over to the managerial post. "I am a bit worried to be taking over as manager at such a difficult moment for the club, but I will try to take it step by step to build this team," Lee said in a statement released by the Tigers. "I want to put players in a position where they can play baseball the way they want to play. I understand what the club and our fans expect of me. I want to push the club to great heights during my time here ." Lee made his KBO debut with the Hanwha Eagles in 2000 and spent 10 years there before playing the 2010 season with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. Lee returned to the KBO by signing with the Tigers before the 2011 season and spent his final nine years there. Lee was a member of the Tigers' most recent Korean Series championship team in 2017. After his playing career ended in 2019, Lee remained with the Tigers, first working as a scout in 2020 and as their minor league manager in 2021. He was named their hitting coach in 2022. One of the most productive hitters in his time, Lee retired with 329 home runs, 1,127 RBIs and 1,727 hits in 2,001 career games. He ranks ninth on the all-time home run list, and owns the KBO record with 17 career grand slams. "As our former minor league manager and first-team hitting coach, Lee Bum-ho has a deep understanding of our organization," the Tigers said. "We felt he was the perfect person to pull the team together at this juncture, given his leadership and excellen t communication skills." Shim Jae-hak, general manager of the Tigers, said the club did not interview outside candidates once it was decided that someone from within would be promoted to fill the managerial vacancy. Rather than pursuing any former manager with Tigers ties, the management chose to go with a first-time manager and give him a clean slate. "Since I became the general manager, I've spoken with our coaches on many occasions to discuss the direction of our ball club. And Lee Bum-ho always had a lot of great ideas," Shim said. "And he had an excellent presentation at the team strategy seminar last month with our CEO in attendance. I think he must have earned extra points during this hiring process because of that." Based in the southwestern city of Gwangju, the Tigers have won more Korean Series championships than any team in KBO history with 11. With a good mix of young talent and seasoned veterans up and down their roster, the Tigers are seen as a postseason contender this year, after some up-a nd-down performances in the recent past. In 2022, their first season under Kim Jong-kook, the Tigers made it to the wild card game with a record of 70-73-1 (wins-losses-ties), a 12-win jump from 2021, but lost to the KT Wiz. They went 73-69-2 in 2023 but finished a game back of the Doosan Bears for the final postseason spot. During this offseason, the Tigers signed two former major league pitchers, Wil Crowe and James Naile, to be their new foreign starters, after finishing the 2023 season with Thomas Pannone and Mario Sanchez. The Tigers haven't received strong performances from their foreign hurlers since Aaron Brooks and Drew Gagnon were manning the rotation in 2020, and they have high expectations for the new duo. The Tigers retained outfielder Socrates Brito to round out their foreign trio for 2024. In addition, they re-signed their own free agent, infielder Kim Sun-bin, while giving a former regular season most valuable player, Seo Geon-chang, a second chance in his hometown after the 34-year-old hi t a rough patch during a three-year stint with the LG Twins. The Tigers also gave designated hitter Choi Hyoung-woo, the KBO's career RBI leader, a new two-year deal after a productive season by the 40-year-old. Source: Yonhap News Agency