After reigning as the best hitter in the history of the KBO League, Doosan coach Seung-yeop Lee played an active part in Japanese professional baseball for a long time. And when he returned to Samsung in 2012, a catcher named Yang Eui-ji (36, Doosan), who had not existed before entering Japan, was becoming a mountain that must be overcome.
Coach Lee, who was in the opposite dugout during his active career, remembers many times being tongue-tied by Yang Eui-ji’s persistent lead. Regarding his impressions of Yang Eui-ji ahead of the Gwangju KIA game on the 18th, Manager Lee said, “He was a good catcher even back then. This catcher is persistent when he is at bat. He sees his weaknesses until the end,” and added, “Even now, if there is a weak hitter on his side, he would be reckless.” “I went in until I hit the right level. It was a little difficult for me too,” he said, grinning and remembering.
Euiji Yang confessed that it was difficult to guess what was in the mind of the catcher. Manager Lee said, “(Other catchers) are usually very precise in their calculations and predict what kind of ball will come next after this ball, but I don’t know why Yang Eui-ji did that, but I couldn’t predict it.” “Because it was important, I thought a lot about ‘What would Yang Eui-ji think?’ I think it was because of those thoughts that I felt like Yang Eui-ji was even more amazing.”
By the time Coach Lee retired, Yang Eui-ji had become the best catcher in the KBO League, acknowledged by others. He is evaluated as having all the basic virtues of a catcher. In addition to basic defensive skills, he is able to read the pitcher’s strengths and the psychology of the batter, as well as read the entire game. He is a big catcher up to this point, but he is also good at attacking. He also has some of the best offensive production in the league. He is the best catcher and the best hitter. There is a reason why he signed a free agent contract worth 10 billion won twice.
That is why Yang Eui-ji was the best gift to coach Lee, 안전놀이터 who began his career as a leader by taking charge of Doosan this year. Yang Eui-ji, who left Doosan, whom he had grown fond of by signing a four-year contract with NC for a total of 12.5 billion won after the 2018 season, returned to his former team by signing a free agent contract with Doosan ahead of this season. For Doosan, which was making a new start under the brand name ‘Lee Seung-yeop’, he was like a force in the world. Although he is in his mid to late 30s, his skills are still intact. His physical strength may not be as good as before, but his charisma that can control the game has become stronger.
Not to mention his defense and presence as a catcher, his offense, which was feared to be showing signs of aging, has not yet shown signs of improvement. Yang Eui-ji played in 107 games of the season until the 18th and is recording a batting average of 0.311, 12 home runs, 53 RBI, and OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.876. The adjusted scoring production (wRC+) compiled by statistics website ‘Statistics’ reaches 153.4. He competes for the league’s best along with Noh Si-hwan (Hanwha ‧159.9), Hong Chang-ki (LG‧157.1), and Choi Jeong (SSG‧154.8). Again, Yang Eui-ji is a catcher. He has no equal among catchers. He is unique.
Coach Lee went from being an unpleasant opponent to a reliable field commander whom he can trust and entrust with everything. And he rants that Yang Will’s class is still alive. Director Lee summarized Yang Eui-ji’s class in one scene, saying, “Five more years have passed, so I have gained more experience.” It was the 5th inning against Gwangju KIA on the 15th. Yang Eui-ji, who came out with a hit in the 5th inning when the team was down 2-5, unexpectedly stole second base. When the throw hit here, he ran to third base without even looking back. He correctly observed that there was no defender on third base.
Coach Lee said, “When I see him running the bases at that time, I can feel, ‘He definitely has good sense,’ and ‘He uses his head well and is smart.’ It’s just that because his playing style is not fast, he stands out less. “If he was a really fast player, he would have been swinging around. When I asked him, he said he had thought about it in advance (to get to third base). I thought he was a great player,” he said, praising him.
Yang Eui-ji is already accumulating records that will be remembered in KBO League history. Aside from his not-so-visible defensive ability, he recorded a batting average of 0.307, 240 home runs, and 997 RBI in 1,692 KBO games. Among the KBO League’s all-time catchers, the only player with better offensive production than Yang Eui-ji is the legendary Lee Man-su. The number of games played by Park Kyung-wan (2,043 games), who is considered a catcher with the best defense and lead of all time, is gradually approaching. Yang Eui-ji, who signed a 4+2 year 15.2 billion won contract this year, still has three more years left on his guaranteed contract with Doosan.
So, will Yang Eui-ji be able to retire with a record that can challenge those who are considered the best catchers of all time? Coach Lee, the best player in KBO history, was very cautious, but diagnosed that there was a possibility. Manager Lee was cautious in his evaluation, saying, “There are great seniors,” but summed up, “I think Yang Eui-ji can be compared when viewed in the areas of an overall baseball player, including offense and defense, not just the catcher’s area.”
It is difficult to say for sure that the situation has been surpassed right now, and director Lee’s cautious nuance is read as difficult to say for sure about what will happen in the future. However, while the careers of senior catchers are over, Yang Eui-ji’s active career still remains, so the possibility is not ruled out. If the current trend continues, there is a possibility that Yang Eui-ji’s cumulative performance upon retirement will be even greater than that of his predecessors. It remains to be seen whether the career of the best catcher of all time can be completed under the best player of all time.