Sometimes baseball becomes something more than baseball. Such is the case with the LG Twins. Twenty-nine years ago, in 1994, the LG Twins’ championship was more than a baseball team’s accomplishment; it was an icon of the times and a socio-cultural phenomenon.
In the drama “Reply 1994,” LG’s championship that year was treated as important as the Yonsei basketball syndrome, the disbanding of “Seo Taiji and the Kids,” and the Sampung Department Store disaster. There was something special about LG baseball at that time. There was an advanced pitching system represented by the Star System, cool pinstriped uniforms and stylish cheerleaders, and players with ear-to-ear smiles (especially the “rookie trio” of Ryu Ji-hyun, Seo Yong-bin, and Kim Jae-hyun), as opposed to the clunky, clunky “player uncles” of the past. The “new wave” created by LG attracted teenage and female fans to ballparks that were once filled with male spectators and cigarette smoke. “There were many stories among baseball players that the popularity of LG baseball was a big reason why the LG Group changed its name from ‘Lucky Venus’ to ‘LG,'” recalled one baseball elder.
“At that time, LG had good cooperation between the front and the field, and the parent company fully supported the baseball team,” said Choi Jong-jun, vice president of the Korea Go Association, who served as LG’s head coach until 2000. All the other clubs were envious of LG. At that time, I thought LG’s heyday would last for a long time.”
Most of us probably thought so. In “Reply,” Sung Dong-il, who plays LG’s coach, dips a bottle of champagne commemorating the 1994 championship and proclaims, “For the next 10 years, the Seoul Twins will have a monopoly.” But he doesn’t break out the champagne the next year, or the year after that. In the drama, the winning liquor is still there in 2013 when the main character, Sung Na Jung (played by Go Ara), gets married. Even now, when “Reply” is a drama that depicts the 1990s as a “memory” of a decade ago, the last year of production of the winning liquor remains stuck in 1994. Even last year, which was considered by experts to be a “winning year,” LG finished second in the regular season and fell victim to a shocking “upset” in the playoffs (a lower-ranked team beating a higher-ranked team).먹튀검증
On the 30th anniversary of the championship, it will be interesting to see if LG’s players can open the bottle of champagne in the back of the cupboard. For now, it’s clear that this year’s team is closer to winning the Korean Series than ever before. Touted as a “strong contender” before the season, the team has led the league since May, culminating in a thrilling regular season win on October 3 and a direct trip to the Korean Series. Of the 37 Korean Series held since 1986, the team with the best regular season record has won the title 30 times, a whopping 81% of the time.
The smell of victory is in the air, and there are already signs of ‘syndrome’. Newspapers that featured the win on the front page sold out early. One copy of the newspaper was sold for 10,000 won in the secondary market, and the newspaper company printed another 2,000 copies. A book about the history of LG Baseball over the past 12 years was even published. After securing the title on the bus on the road, LG held two victory ceremonies, one at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan and the other at Jamsil in Seoul. If a drama called “Reply 2023” were to be made in the future, it might be one of the signature episodes.
LG’s victory in the regular season this year was not a fluke or a lucky break. It’s the culmination of a decade-long process of collective building. Former 1994 championship coach Lee Kwang-hwan said, “LG had a lot of expectations last year, too. We’ve accumulated a lot of good players over the years, and now the team seems to have settled down. They have all the characteristics of a championship team. Especially the mound is solid, so I don’t think they will collapse easily.”
A local team scout said, “LG has done a great job in the past few years in the rookie draft. They’ve had a lot of good players in the top picks, but they’ve also had successes in the lower rounds like Moon Sung-joo and Lee Ji-gang.” The team has also been able to systematically develop players at Icheon Futures Stadium, which has the best facilities among the 10 teams.
“A thick player base built through free agency and trades is the secret to winning,” said a key official from another club. “If you look at the lower-ranked teams that are rebuilding from the ground up, it is not uncommon for rookies or second-team players to be bloodlessly integrated into the first team. LG, on the other hand, has such a thick player base that it’s hard to get a call-up to the first team with any kind of skill. The same can be said for SK and Doosan during their dynasties.”
The presence of outstanding team leaders in Kim Hyun-soo and Oh Ji-hwan is also important. It is analyzed that the synergistic effect of externally recruited leaders and internally developed leaders is working together. One LG player who transferred from another club said, “Kim Hyun-soo and Oh Ji-hwan set the tone for the team. “Kim Hyun-soo has the ability to bring out the best in his teammates,” said a player who transferred from another team. “He is able to bring out the best in his teammates. Oh Ji-hwan is good at listening to and helping juniors and teammates who are struggling.”
An official familiar with the LG squad said, “Even though we stayed in first place, there were many bumps in the road. “At the beginning of the season, we hit a big bump in the road because there was no ‘chemistry’ between the new coaching staff and the players,” he said, “but the team overcame the crisis by sticking together around Kim Hyun-soo and Oh Ji-hwan. No matter what anyone said around them, they gained momentum by uniting and encouraging each other.”
The previous LG player also said, “The veteran players set the tone for us, which gave us unwavering strength. The teamwork among the players is really good.” The analysis is that the team’s overwhelming power and good team chemistry have given it the strength to overcome any adverse events or crises on its own.
A key official from another club said, “Until last year, LG often collapsed in big games and critical situations even though they had good power. But this year, it feels different when you watch them play.” The expectation is that the experience gained by the entire squad from playing fall baseball every year since 2019 will have a positive effect. One LG player said, “The players have experienced fall baseball last year and the year before, and because of that experience, they don’t want to miss the opportunity this year. The players are more united and focused. It’s the same atmosphere I felt when I was on a championship team before.”
Everything is pointing toward LG winning the Korean Series. Not only do they have the advantage of being the No. 1 team in the regular season, but they also have the strength of their roster. As of October 11, LG’s Pythagorean Expected Runs Saved (0.606), calculated from runs scored and runs allowed, exceeds that of the second-place NC (0.554). The offense, which is the only one in the league to score more than 700 runs (756), more than makes up for the frequent stolen bases and baserunners. The height of their pitching staff, which is often used as a chaser for other teams’ best pitchers, and the solid defense of their infield and outfield are also reasons why LG is the strongest team.
No Ace to Rely on to Carry the Game
If there’s one weakness, it’s the lack of a clear “one-punch” ace in the starting lineup. While the quality of all the pitchers on the first-team roster is a big plus, there’s no “dominant” ace like Eric Pedi of the NC Dinos or Young-pyo Ko of the KT Wiz who can guarantee a win in a big game.
Adam Plutko, who leads the team (and ranks ninth in the league) with 3.86 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), won 11 games in the first half of the season, but is questionable for the Korean Series due to a pelvic contusion. Jin-seong Kim, who is second on the team and 16th in the league with a 2.91 WAR, and Duk-ju Ham, who is third on the team and 20th in the league with a 2.64 WAR, are non-starters. Among starting pitchers, the next highest WAR ranked player after Plutko is Chan-kyu Im, who is 31st overall (2.15 WAR). This pales in comparison to teams like KT, who have a powerful foreign one-two punch of Benjamin-Cuevas and Go Young-pyo, and NC, who have Pedi, who is considered the best pitcher in the league.
The 2015 Samsung Lions, who went straight to the Korean Series as the No. 1 team and allowed a rare upset, collapsed due to poor starting pitching. The 2018 champions, the SK Wyverns, were able to match the Doosan Bears for the top spot in the regular season and eventually win the upset.
Of course, there are those who believe that weak starting pitching shouldn’t be a problem as there is plenty of time to prepare before the Korean Series. “The biggest difference between a team coming off the playoffs and a team going straight to the Korean Series in Game 1 and Game 2 is the pitching staff. The well-rested pitchers of the No. 1 team are hard to beat with the bats of tired opposing batters. It’s true that LG has a weak starting lineup, but I think Yoon Kyung-yeop and the coaching staff will have enough time to prepare for it.”
In baseball circles, the team that will threaten LG is second-place KT. They have the experience of winning the unified championship in 2021, and manager Lee Kang-cheol has the ability to play the short game. Add to that a strong starting lineup of Benjamin, Cuevas, and Young-pyo, and you’ve got a very tricky opponent for LG. If KT breezes through the playoffs and makes it to the Korean Series, they may be able to match LG with little loss of strength. It will be interesting to see how this year’s LG team finishes after 29 years of waiting.