Tag Archives: baseball

Wendell Kim

Former MLB Coach Wendell Kim Dies at 64

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Wendell Kim, a former coach for several MLB teams, as well as a former minor league player, died on Sunday near his home in Arizona after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 64, reports the Chicago Tribune. He is survived by his wife along with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

Wendell Kealohepauloe Kim was born on March 9, 1950 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Doris and Phil Kim (The meaning of his middle name is “never ending love”). His family relocated to Long Beach, California, to help his father’s boxing career.

The St. Louis Sports Page published a feature on Kim this past August detailing his rough childhood and being diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It describes Kim’s father as abusive to his wife and children, who was then killed in 1958, possibly by the mob, for refusing to throw a fight.

Kim would rise above the traumatic events of his childhood. He took up baseball in high school at the encouragement of his mother. After graduating from Banning High School in Wilmington, California, Kim attended Cal Poly Pomona and played three years of baseball, setting school records and being selected twice for the All-California Collegiate Athletic Association team.

In 1973, Kim traveled to San Francisco without telling his mother to participate in an open try-out with the Giants, who signed him as an undrafted free agent. That began the first of 24 years with the Giants organization.

Using his height as a motivational factor, Kim, at 5-foot-4, would spend eight years playing as a second baseman, unfortunately never cracking the big league roster despite posting a .363 on-base percentage in 2,525 plate appearances. He was no slouch: Kim at the time benched 320 lbs and leg pressed 1,000 lbs.

After a coaching and managing stint in the minors, Kim joined the Giants coaching staff in 1989, quickly making a name for himself with his passion, as well as his aggressive baserunning decisions. During his tenure as the third base coach, the Giants won the pennant in his first year and won 103 games in 1993.

WKimKim as the San Francisco Giants’ third base coach. Photo via McCovey Chronicles.

Known as “Wavin’ Wendell” or “Wave ‘em in Wendell” for his aggressive style, Kim became one of the most recognizable third base coaches in San Francisco Giants history, a position he held until 1996. While he drew the ire of fans for being over-aggressive in sending baserunners home only to be thrown out, he was always the first to take responsibility if he made a mistake in the media.

Regardless, his enthusiasm and energy made him a fun figure to watch. Kim cut a diminutive figure among his fellow coaches and players, but he would be the first one to sprint out of the dugout and take his place in the third base coaching box. 

Kim was dismissed by the Giants following the 1996 season and went on to join the Boston Red Sox as their third base coach from 1997-2000. He was voted Man of the Year in 1997 by the Red Sox, becoming only the second non-player to receive the award in 33 years. After coaching with the Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos, Kim made his final stop of his career with the Chicago Cubs before retiring in 2005.

You can make a donation in Kim’s name to the North California chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association here.


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Robert Refsnyder Vying to Become Starting 2nd Baseman

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

After losing six-time All-Star Robinson Cano via free agency, the New York Yankees were forced to settle for mediocrity at second base last season. Stephen Drew, who finished the season as the Yankees’ starting second baseman, hit an abysmal .150 since for the team. Nevertheless, the Yankees couldn’t find a viable replacement at second base during the offseason and ended up re-signing Drew on a one-year deal. If Drew does not improve drastically, though, the team could easily cut him.

This is one of the reasons why Yankees top-rated prospect Robert Refsnyder could provide a long-term solution for manager Joe Girardi’s longstanding struggle to fill the void left by Cano’s departure from a year ago. The 23-year-old, Korean-born Refsnyder has impressed the Yankees organization with his robust production in the minor leagues over the last three years.

Last season, Refsnyder combined a batting average of .318 with 14 home runs and 58 extra base hits for the Yankees’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. While the outfielder-turned-second baseman’s defense still remains suspect, he committed just 12 errors last season compared to 25 in 2013.

“In half a year he had nine errors in Double-A and in in the second half, in Triple-A, he only had three. So there’s obviously a lot of improvement there. And I think that’s what we’re looking to see,” Yankees manager Girardi told NJ.com. “This is a young man that played right field in college. Very excited about his bat and his ability to get on base and do some things.”

The Yankees dealt Martin Prado, a utility infielder, to the Miami Marlins during the offeseason. Left only with Drew and a pair of unproven infielders in Didi Gregorius and Jose Pirela, Girardi invited Refsnyder to the Yankees’ camp for spring training, which begins in about two weeks in Tampa, Florida, where he will be given ample opportunities to make the Yankees’ 25-man roster for opening day in April.

“He has a chance to be a regular offensive second baseman,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “I can’t tell you he’s not major-league ready just yet. The bottom line is, he’ll go into camp, and he’ll compete, and he’ll have a chance to potentially earn a spot on the roster.”

Born in Seoul with the birth name Kim Jung-tae, Refsnyder was adopted by Caucasian parents when he was about 3 months old. He was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. He was a standout outfielder for the University of Arizona, where he hit .476 to lead his school to a College World Series title in 2012.

Refnsyder grew up in Laguna Hills, Calif. where he was a fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


To read KoreAm Journal’s feature on Robert Refsnyder from our August 2012 issue click here.

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Robert Refsnyder Making the Plays

Pictured above: Refsnyder makes a catch from his right field position during a College World Series game against South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of University of Arizona)


Although he wasn’t a New York Yankees fan while growing up in sunny Southern California, Robert Refsnyder always had an appreciation for their iconic shortstop, Derek Jeter.

“I just liked how [Jeter] played and liked how he came through in post-season moments,” Refsnyder told KoreAm last month. So in tribute to the Yankee superstar, Refsnyder chose to wear for the University of Arizona ballclub the same No. 2 jersey donned by Jeter. And at the 2012 College World Series, Refsnyder emulated the elder No. 2’s ability to come through in the clutch and provided his own post-season heroics for his Wildcats.

During Arizona’s first five games in Omaha, Neb., where the College World Series takes place annually in June, Refsnyder was a one-man wrecking crew. His .476 average (10 hits in 21 at-bats), including two home runs and five RBI, helped the Wildcats advance in the double-elimination tournament into the final series, where they faced the twotime defending champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks.

In the best-of-three championship series, Refsnyder once again made his presence felt by making key plays on offense and defense. His most notable contributions: belting a two-run opposite-field home run to right field (something that isn’t easily done at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which has larger dimensions than most college stadiums) in Game 1; and singling in the top of the ninth inning and scoring the eventual championship-winning run in Game 2.

It was hardly a surprise when Refsnyder was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 College World Series. He also earned a spot on the College World Series All-Tournament Team, as Arizona claimed its fourth national baseball title and its first since 1986. “That’s the ultimate goal for a college baseball player,” said Refsnyder, after their championship-clinching victory in Game 2. “We got hot at the right time. To see your teammates pull together makes the event very special.”

Refsnyder, who served as the clean-up hitter for a very potent Wildcats lineup this season, finished the 2012 college baseball season with impressive numbers across the board. He hit .364 (the second highest mark on his team) with eight home runs and 66 RBI (both marks led the team). He also led the Pacific-12 Conference in total bases with 145, and he was named an All-Pacific-12 Conference team member for the second consecutive season.

Now, in addition to the stellar stats and the championship-winning moments, the 21-year-old Refsnyder shares something else with Derek Jeter: they both play for the same organization. On June, the New York Yankees nabbed Refsnyder in the fifth round (number 187 overall) of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. He got the call from a Yankee scout while walking through a Tucson mall with his girlfriend. Needless to say, he was excited. “To be drafted by the Yankees, there’s such a culture and tradition,” he told the New York Post. “This is what you dream about when you’re a little kid.”

Cul-Sports-0812-FaceRobert Refsnyder

After signing a contract worth $205,900 with his new club on July 6, it was thought that Refsnyder would be assigned to the Yankees’ Short Season Class-A minor league affiliate in Staten Island. Instead, he was sent to their Class-A team in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 10, which would prove to be an ironic twist of fate.

During the championship series against the University of South Carolina, Refsnyder and his family were the target of some racist taunts from some Gamecock supporters. He would go on Twitter and write that he would never want to live in South Carolina. He later deleted the comment and tweeted an apology. And in his first professional at-bat on July 10, he received a warm reception from the Charleston RiverDogs fans and promptly singled to right field.

“I apologize for generalizing a whole state, that’s so stupid and immature on my part,” Refsnyder told reporters. “But I won’t apologize for some of the things I said about trying to stick up for my family and things like that.”

The family that he was sticking up for consists of his Caucasian parents, Clint and Jane, who adopted him when he was 3 months old, after he was born in Seoul, and his older sister, Elizabeth, who is also a Korean adoptee and played softball at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. His parents, avid baseball junkies, played a big influence on his life, and he looks to honor them by giving his maximum effort every time he steps on the field. “Whenever you wear your family’s name or organization or school [on your uniform], you should play hard … because you’re representing a lot more than just yourself,” he told KoreAm.

Cul-Sports-0812-HittingRefsnyder belts his seventh home run of the season against Florida State during the College World Series.

Although Refsnyder manned right field the past two seasons at Arizona, the Yankees drafted him as a second basemen because, although scouts praise his natural hitting ability, he’s not considered to have enough power for playing the outfield at the major league level. However, in his first four games at Charleston, he has found himself back in his customary right field spot, and he’s still collecting hits, with at least one in his first three games. Refsnyder said the current plan is for him to stay in right field if he hits well enough. But he is more than willing to play any position.

“I honestly don’t have any care in the world where I play as long as I am playing baseball,” Refsnyder told KoreAm.

“Whatever the coaching [staff] wants, I’ll do. I’m most comfortable in right field but if they want to move me to left, third [base] or second, or anything … I’ll work the hardest that I can.”


This article was published in the August 2012 issue of KoreAm under the title “Making the Plays.” Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August issue, click below.

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Chan Ho Park Receives a Pioneers of Baseball Award

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Chan Ho Park received a Pioneers of Baseball Award on Saturday, in honor of his accomplishments as the first Korean to play in Major League Baseball.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig presented the award to both Park and Hideo Nomo, the first Japanese-born player to sign with the MLB, at the annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel.

According to Arirang, Park delivered a powerful speech as he recalled the hardships he faced as a pioneering Korean player and thanked the scouts for giving him a chance to play in the Majors.

Park signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994 and went on to play for the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates until 2010. Park is the all-time winningest Asian pitcher in the history of the MLB with 124 wins, besting Nomo’s record by one victory.

Park and Nomo were teammates when they played for the Dodgers from 1995 to 1998.


Related Stories:

Chan Ho Park pays visit to L.A. Exhibit that celebrates Diversity in Baseball

March 2013 cover story on Chan Ho Park


Pirates Sign Shortstop Kang on a 4-Year, $16 Million Deal

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea’s star shortstop Jung Ho Kang became the first position player to make the leap from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) to the major leagues after the Pittsburgh Pirates announced Friday that they signed the 27-year-old to a four-year deal worth about $16 million.

Kang passed the required physical on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and signed a deal that guarantees at least $11 million over the next four years. Last December, the Pirates paid a $5 million posting fee to Kang’s former KBO club, the Nexen Heroes, to earn the exclusive rights to negotiate with him. The deal also includes a team option for a fifth year at $5.5 million.

“I’m very excited and humbled by this opportunity,” Kang said in a press release. “I look forward to joining a great group of teammates, and I am ready to work hard to help the Pirates win any way that I can.”

Kang’s deal, worth up to $21.5 million, is relatively a significant investment by the Pirates considering that they had the third lowest payroll ($71 million) last season among the 30 teams in the big leagues. His annual salary over the next four guaranteed years (an average of  $2.75 million) makes him one of the top 10 paid players on the Pirates’ current roster.

“We like the player a lot,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said, according to MLB.com. “We look forward to confirming our belief in him as a shortstop. We’re excited by the opportunity to have the first Korean hitter make this transition.”

Despite their aggressive investment, the Pirates remain cautious about making Kang an immediate starter at shortstop. Jordy Mercer, the current starting shortstop for the Pirates, was the only shortstop in the big leagues last season who made more than 300 throws to first base while drawing no errors.

The MLB Network also named Mercer as the sixth best shortstop in the big leagues for his standout defense.

Huntington revealed that Kang will begin spring training in March as a “complementary player” for the Pirates, hinting that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle may use the South Korean as a utility player.

Kang’s defense remains suspect, especially at the major league level, which conceivably puts him behind Mercer in Pittsburgh’s shortstop pecking order.

But the Pirates are hoping that Kang’s contribution off the bench could still give them a substantial boost, perhaps in the similar way that the Los Angeles Dodgers fed off of Justin Turner’s production last season as a bench player. Turner, averaging only 2.6 at-bats per game last season, hit an impressive .340 while playing all four infield positions on defense as the Dodgers won the National League West.

For nine seasons in the KBO, Kang played multiple infield positions, including third baseman and second baseman. Although Pittsburgh boasts a formidable lineup across the infield with third baseman Josh Harrison and Neil Walker, Kang would likely be its first option off the bench given how aggressive its front office pursued his services since late last year.

Huntington further added that Kang will go through a “significant transitional period,” despite confirming that there is no intention to send him to the minor leagues.

“[Kang] will give [Hurdle] a lot of [in-game] flexibility,” Huntington said. “He’s a nice all-around player who will have a successful career as a regular [in the major leagues]. We just don’t know when that will happen.”

Where Kang holds the edge on his competitors, notably Mercer, is his potential on offense. He is a power hitter, a rarity for most shortstops, who averaged .298 batting average and .504 slugging percentage in the last nine seasons in Korea. Last season, he shattered his career-highs in most offensive categories with 40 home runs on a .356 batting average, .459 on-base percentage and .739 slugging percentage.

When asked about competing for the starting shortstop job in Pittsburgh before he left Korea on Tuesday, Kang said: “If I can get an opportunity to play consistently, I think I can play better.”


Featured photo courtesy of Starin

koream 2014 covers

KoreAm Journal’s 2014 Covers

As 2014 draws to a close, KoreAm takes a look back at this past year’s cover stories.

January 2014

tiger jk koream cover jan 2014Read Tiger JK’s cover story here.

February 2014

arden cho koream feb 2014 coverRead Arden Cho’s cover story here.

March 2014

run river north koream mar 2014 coverRead Run River North’s cover story here

April 2014

ej ok koream april 2014 coverRead E.J. Ok’s cover story here.

May 2014

sandra oh koream may 2014 coverRead Sandra Oh’s cover story here

June 2014

sung kang koream june 2014 coverRead Sung Kang’s cover story here.

July 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 3.08.36 PM
Read the cover story “Asian Americans: The New White?” here.

August/September 2014

shin-soo choo koream aug 2014 coverRead Shin-soo Choo’s cover story here.

October/November 2014

john cho koream oct nov 2014 coverRead John Cho’s cover story here

December 2014/January 2015

randall park dec jan 2015 coverRead Randall Park’s cover story here


To subscribe to KoreAm, click here. To purchase a copy of a past magazine issue, please contact our office via phone at (310) 769-4913 x 221 or via email at admin@iamkoream.com.



Fully Recovered, Shin-Soo Choo is Ready to Rebound in 2015

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

After signing a lucrative $130 million contract, nothing went right for Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in 2014. Playing through injuries, Choo hit a career-low .242 in 123 games before an elbow surgery finally ruled him out for the season in late August.

Evidently, the 32-year-old fell far below expectations and was soon labeled a “bust” by fans and media alike.

“I know what kind of things are being said about me,” Choo told Naver Sports. “It’s something I’ll have to accept. I was hurt all season, but my team needed me. So I decided that playing through pain was the best I could do for my team. The only thing that hurts me is when I hear people denounce my entire career because of one bad season I had.”

Going into this past season, Choo was widely considered one of the best outfielders in the major leagues. Between 2006 and 2013, his batting average fell below .280 just once in eight seasons, during which he eclipsed the .300 mark three times. He even turned down a $140 million offer from the New York Yankees to sign with the Rangers as he felt that he would have a better shot at winning.

However, after reaching the World Series twice in the last four years, the Rangers also suffered their worst season in recent memory and finished with the worst record in the American League at 67-95. And Choo went down with them.

Choo, who recently started practicing in Dallas after recovering from the elbow surgery, said he has never started to prepare for a season earlier than this time around. He vowed to make the upcoming 2015 season a turning point of his career and return as one of the most dynamic outfielders in baseball.

“I’m sure the efforts I’m making now will pay off,” Choo said. “I no longer want to take any more criticism. At the end of the day, I’m sure all the struggles I’ve been through this season will be remembered as times I feel thankful for after I overcome. I’ll regain the faith from fans who became frustrated from watching me struggle this year.”

Read KoreAm’s August/September cover story on Shin-Soo Choo here.

kim kwang-hyun

Kim Kwang-hyun Rejects Offer from San Diego Padres

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

There goes another one. South Korea’s star left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun will not be pitching in the major leagues next year after he failed to reach an agreement with the San Diego Padres before Thursday’s deadline, according to multiple reports.

Kim’s nixed deal with the Padres comes only two weeks after another South Korean pitcher, Yang Hyeon-jong, fell short of signing with a major league ballclub after his team, the Kia Tigers, rejected the bid that would’ve allowed him to negotiate a move.

The Padres began a 30-day negotiation period to sign Kim after they made a winning bid of $2 million in a private auction for his services. The SK Wyverns, Kim’s South Korean team, accepted the offer. Represented by his agent Melvin Roman, Kim was even invited to San Diego by the Padres to tour Petco Park, the club’s home stadium last week, but the two sides could not come to terms during the contract negotiation before Thursday’s deadline.

“It’s regretful that I couldn’t agree on a contract with San Diego, but I thank my team, the SK Wyverns, for allowing me to negotiate with a major league franchise,” Kim told the Korean media. “I also thank the San Diego Padres organization for giving me the opportunity and my agent. I will now return to SK, where I’ll try my best once again. I will try to reach the big leagues once I feel more prepared.”

Had Kim signed with the Padres, he would have been South Korea’s third current player to play in the major leagues alongside Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

Kim, 26, will be eligible to sign with a major league team after the 2015 season through the same private auction process. He will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season.

Photo courtesy of Hanstar.net