‘Otani Shock’ Reflections on Korean Baseball…10 Years Later than Japan, but Welcome Reforms

We will come up with mid- to long-term measures to improve the competitiveness of the league and the national team as soon as possible.”

The announcement comes four months after the KBO said in March that it would come up with a plan to address the 2023 World Baseball Classic 스포츠토토 (WBC) disaster. “As the national baseball team’s power and performance in recent international competitions have fallen short of the expectations of baseball fans, we have been preparing a long-term project to raise the level of league play and national team power and expand the base at the same time,” the KBO said on Tuesday.

It’s no exaggeration to say that strengthening the national team is at the center of the reform plan. After South Korea’s third consecutive first-round exit at the 2023 WBC, there were growing calls for the country’s baseball program to be ignored. The WBC is a tournament organized by Major League Baseball in the United States that brings together major leaguers from around the world. It was no wonder that Korea was labeled as a “frog in the well” after receiving the worst report card of being eliminated in the first round of the most prestigious international baseball tournament.

In order to improve beyond the criticism, the team looked to the Japanese National Baseball Team as a role model. In 2011, Japan agreed to a permanent national team and a full-time head coach, and in 2012, the Samurai Japan Project Committee was established to establish the current national team system. In November 2013, Hiroki Kokubo took over as full-time head coach, and Samurai Japan was officially launched. The system of calling up the national team from time to time and holding several pre- and post-season tournaments to test their skills has led to a steady stream of good results in international tournaments. A decade later, at the 2023 WBC, Japan made history by winning the title, led by two-hit superstar Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels).

Korea chose to watch and learn from Japan to avoid falling further behind in the decade that had already passed. It starts with a full-time head coach who can provide long-term, consistent direction for the national team until the 2026 WBC. This is the first time in two years that a full-time head coach has been hired after Sun Dong-yeol at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games and Kim Kyung-moon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For the 2023 WBC, KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-cheol was in charge of the national team, but the tournament coincided with spring training for the season, making it difficult for him to completely abandon his team.

The KBO also said, “Unlike the national team that was called up just before the tournament, we will continue to operate the national team by holding evaluation games and exchange games against overseas teams.” Specifically, the organization plans to organize trials with the LA Dodgers and San Diego Padres ahead of the 2024 MLB Seoul Opening Day, and to play against teams from various countries every year to accumulate international competitiveness and experience for domestic players.

Lee Jung-hoo (Kiwoom Heroes) said at the WBC, “We only convene when there is an international tournament, but I heard that Japan does it every year. I don’t know what the KBO will do in the future, but I think it would be good to gain experience in friendly games.” The request became a reality.

Korea used to freeze whenever they faced Japan with Ohtani in international tournaments.

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