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Korean ‘treasure’ returns for Konami

by Kaz Nagatsuka

For winning an unprecedented three MVP awards, Sun Dong Yol was called “South Korea’s national treasure” when he was an active player. And even after his retirement, he still is respected by everyone.

Sun made a “triumphant return” to Japan as the manager of the Samsung Lions, the 2005 South Korean professional league champions. The Lions will participate in the Konami Cup Asia Series which started Thursday along with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Taiwan’s Sinon Bulls and the China Stars at Tokyo Dome.

Even among the top-flight players, Sun’s presence is divine, and the players show him their utmost respect. Sun is a flexible-minded type of a manager, but still the players seemed serious during a workout Wednesday at the Big Egg.

Considering what he has done for baseball in South Korea, it was a natural reaction.

“I didn’t have enough confidence when I played here (in Japan),” said right-handed pitcher Martin Vargas, who played at the Chunichi Dragons in 2002-04 and moved to the Lions in 2005. “(Sun) is a great manager and he gives many chances to play, and that leads to the confidence that I have now.”

Three MVP awards would be enough to legitimize any player, but Sun captured many other titles throughout his career, both in his home country and in Japan. He won eight ERA titles, had the most victories five times and led the league in saves twice in South Korea. Playing for Chunichi in his final four seasons, he recorded a Central League-high 38 saves in 1997, and Sun helped the Dragons win the CL pennant in 1999.

Sun finished his career with 156 wins, 42 losses, 230 saves and 1.36 ERA in his 15-year pro career in South Korea and Japan.

Sun started his coaching career last year with the Lions and was promoted to the manager this past season.

Sun led the team to the pennant and swept the Doosan Bears in the best-of-seven Korean Series last month, becoming the first rookie manager in league history to win both the pennant and the league championships.

“I want you to look at what I’m doing now,” Sun said. “I learned a lot in Japan. There are things we can learn from Japan, and there are good things in our baseball as well. I’m managing the team mixing up the good points of both.”

Bulls rout China

Chang Chien-ming hit a three-run homer and Lenin Picota pitched seven shutout innings as the Sinon Bulls of Taiwan trounced the China Stars 6-0 in the opening game of the Asia Series on Thursday.