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.
Kim 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.