sung woo lee

Kansas City rolls out the red carpet for SungWoo Lee, a Royals fan from Seoul, South Korea


This is a hard story to summarize because there are so many elements to it and the way it has grown and grown — and continues to grow — is pretty unique.

You may just want to skip to Rany Jazayerli’s blog post from Sunday. He wrote about it beautifully.

The gist is this: A man living in Seoul, South Korea declares himself a Royals fan 20 years ago because he likes underdogs and thinks Kauffman Stadium looks beautiful and wants to use Major League Baseball broadcasts to improve his English skills.

That man begins frequenting Royals blogs and the Kansas City Star website in the early-to-mid 2000s to read more about the team. In 2011, he creates a Twitter account and begins interacting with other people who follow the Royals. Many of those people take a liking to the man’s optimism about an organization that hasn’t warranted much optimism and appreciate the novelty of someone rooting for the small-market Royals from more than 6,000 miles across the globe. Those fans encourage that man to come to Kansas City — that he will be taken care of, that “you’ll love it here.” Those people are good people, and that man eventually takes them up on the offer, and because those people are good people he winds up having the time of his life.

Rany Jazayerli explains the incredible #SungWooToKC adventure

Chris Kamler, who the world knows as @TheFakeNed, interviewed Sung Woo for his website in 2012, and you get the full sense of his personality and devotion there. Kamler ended the interview by once again needling Sung Woo about when he was going to finally fly to Kansas City to see the Royals play.

This summer, Sung Woo finally decided to take the plunge. Taking advantage of a job change, he was able to carve out ten days from his schedule to come to Kansas City, watch the Royals play, and maybe do a little sight-seeing and barbecue-eating while he was in town. He emailed Kamler and fellow Royals fan Dave Darby that he was buying his plane ticket and reserving his hotel room; they told him not to worry about transportation, that they’d pick him up and drive him to the ballpark and introduce him to Arthur Bryant’s and maybe the Negro League Museum while he was in town.

If the story had ended there, that would have been enough: three people who have never met, and can barely communicate with each other, bonding together like long-lost friends over a shared mutual interest in a crappy baseball team. A couple of guys were going to take a day or two off of work to show a complete stranger around town. Movies have been made with flimsier plots.

But then Kamler decided to have a little fun, and use his influence – and I use the term “influence” loosely for a guy who impersonates Ned Yost on Twitter and spends most of his time there making fart jokes – to publicize the fact that Sung Woo Lee was finally coming to Kansas City, and it would be great if other Royals fans would welcome him and make him feel at home.

He had no idea what he was getting himself into. None of us did. I tweeted Kamler on August 1st that since I wasn’t in town to see Sung Woo myself, I’d be happy to drop him a line and talk to him on the phone for a few minutes. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here – talking about the Royals with someone isn’t exactly a sacrifice for me. I’m just pointing out that nine days ago, the story of Sung Woo Lee was still something that only the Royals Twitterati knew about, and the only ambition any of us had at the time was simply for Sung Woo to have a good time while he was in town.

And then things got a little crazy. Kamler started pushing the hashtag #SungWooToKC on Twitter to get the word out. Kamler can run a hashtag into the ground – if something like, say, #CareerEndingTwitterTypos was trending, he’ll tweet out 37 career-ending Twitter typos in quick succession. Kamler is a social media pro, and has enough big names in the KC media world following him to get the word out a fair bit. But still: how many people, aside from us hard-core Royals fan types who even use Twitter in the first place, were going to care about some guy from South Korea who was flying to Kansas City to watch a few baseball games?

This is the point where we have to tip our cap to the Royals themselves. Shortly after Kamler launched #SungWooToKC, the Royals reached out to Lee directly and offered him to throw out the first pitch at Monday’s game. Coming from an organization that has made missteps with the way it communicates to its fan base at times, this was an incredibly gracious and classy move. When trying to piece together how this story went viral, it’s – almost by definition – impossible to tell what the tipping point was that made Sung Woo Lee a phenomenon. But being offered to throw out the first pitch had to have made a difference. As a media story, “hey, there’s this Royals fan coming all the way from Korea to watch his first game at Kauffman Stadium” is nice, but “hey, there’s this Royals fan coming all the way from Korea to watch his first game at Kauffman Stadium, and the Royals are letting him throw out the first pitch on Monday!” has a much bigger hook.

The media, the fans, the entire damn city took the hook. Kamler wrote about Sung Woo’s approaching trip, including his itinerary while he was in town, for Pine Tar Press last weekend. At that point, I just hoped that his trip might warrant a brief mention in the Kansas City Star or something. By the time he landed in Kansas City Tuesday afternoon, he had four local TV crews waiting at the gate for his arrival. The city has laid out the red carpet for him ever since, and the story just continues to grow.

For posterity’s sake, I’m going to do my best to summarize what has happened since, though to save time I won’t be able to link to everything. To get the full flavor, check out Sung Woo’s Twitter feed, or Kamler’s.

– Greeted by camera crews Tuesday afternoon, was on four local TV broadcasts that night.

– Was featured in the Star Wednesday morning.

– Took a tour of the Negro League Museum later that morning, featuring tour guide Bob Kendrick and an entourage of two dozen people.

– Gets featured at Deadspin and USA Today.

– Has lunch at Arthur Bryant’s.

– Is interviewed on 610 Sports that afternoon.

Trolls the Best Fans In Baseball.

Tours Boulevard Brewing Company that evening.

– With the Royals still playing in Arizona, he gets a shoutout from Danny Duffy – who, behind the scenes, also had a lot to do with Sung Woo’s story becoming as big as it has – on the Royals pre-game show.

– Got an email from Mike Sweeney.

– This is all still Wednesday, by the way.

– Appeared on 96.5 The Buzz Thursday morning. Was given a helmet signed by Billy Butler and a hat signed by Bruce Chen from the station.

– Is featured in the English-language Korea Times.

– Received a personal tour of Kauffman Stadium from the Royals, led by Jennifer Splittorff, who presented him with a SPLITT patch and one of her dad’s bobbleheads afterwards. Goes out on the field, touches the grass, picks up a bullpen phone, basically does everything short of hitting a double in the gap.

– Gets a personalized “SungWoo Lee” #23 Royals jersey, presented by Curt Nelson, the Director of the Royals’ Hall of Fame.

– Walks across the Truman Sports Complex to tailgate before the Chiefs’ preseason opener.

– Is presented with his own personalized #1 jersey by the Chiefs, gets tickets near the 50-yard line. Meets former players and current team president Mark Donovan.

– Friday was a pre-scheduled trip to see the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, so much of it was spent in the car. However, once there he managed to:

– Watch batting practice from next to the cage;

– Get invited into the clubhouse by manager Vance Wilson, who had heard about his story;

– Shake hands with every player one by one, and give Mitch Maier – back mentoring the baby Royals – a bear hug.

– Rode the Naturals’ pickup onto the field with their mascots.

– Got on the field as a human bowling ball during a mid-inning promotion. He managed to knock over six pins.

– Got Maier’s autographed jersey after the game.

Saturday, he was back in Kansas City for his first chance to watch the Royals play live.

– Prior to the game he was the star of a massive tailgate party in the parking lot, where he met his adoring masses.

Appeared on the Jumbotron in the middle of the fifth inning.

– Was a story on Sportscenter – SPORTSCENTER – after the game Saturday night.

– Appeared in studio with Joel Goldberg and Jeff Montgomery on today’s pre-game show. Montgomery gave him an autographed glove as a gift.

– Took part in the dance-off competition against Jimmy Faseler – whosespot as Everyone’s Favorite Royals Fan he usurped. Sung Woo won, of course. (Sorry, Jimmy.)

– Was featured at

Somewhere along the way he appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered. He’s gotten tweets sent to him from Jeremy Guthrie, Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler (at least – there may be more.)

The Royals have won five straight games since SungWoo landed and are just a half-game back of the Tigers in the American League Central standings entering play Monday night against the visiting A’s.

Leave Steve Bartman Alone

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 16: A general view on June 16,  2015 at Wrigley Field during the fifth inning of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Cubs are up 3-2 in the NLCS and are heading back to Wrigley Field in an effort to punch their first World Series ticket since 1945. For Cubs fans it’s a dream come true. For Dodgers fans it’s nail-biting time. For most of the players involved it’s the biggest test of their professional lives.

For many in the baseball media, however, it’ll be an opportunity to throw gleeful, thoughtless punches at a man who doesn’t want or deserve the attention:

We all know the story of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS which, yes, began with the Cubs leading the series 3-2 and needing only one win in two games at home to go to the World Series. Bartman, like many other fans in his section that night and like countless other fans at countless other baseball games before and since, went for a foul ball coming his way. The fielder — Moises Alou — probably had a chance to catch it (I say “probably” because Alou himself has changed his stance at that on numerous occasions over the past 13 years). Either way, the ball was not caught, the Florida Marlins mounted a huge eighth inning rally, went on to win Game 7 and, eventually, the World Series.

The game was played on a Tuesday night. It became known forever as “the Steve Bartman Game” before the sun rose on Wednesday morning. It could’ve been called “The Mike Everitt Game” after the umpire who didn’t call fan interference on the play. It could’ve been called “The Alex Gonzalez Game” after the would-be inning-ending double play the Cubs shortstop booted, prolonging the Marlins’ rally. Or “The Mark Prior Game” for Prior’s subsequent walk of Luis Castillo or “The Dusty Baker Game” for Baker leaving Prior in too long. When a team blows a huge lead in fantastic fashion they NEVER blame it on one single player or one single play, but the entire 2003 NLCS and the Cubs’ subsequent struggles after that have always, to greater or lesser degrees, been hung on Bartman.

This despite the fact that, the next morning, he apologized. In doing so, he noted that he was already feeling the heat of an entire fan base’s blowback:

To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.

That didn’t happen, of course. The blowback continued and continues to this day. Just this week ESPN did a segment lumping Bartman in with fans who have thrown beer cans at players or who have otherwise interfered with games with malice.

For the most part, though, it’s less rancorous now than it used to be. It’s occasionally tinged with humor. As demonstrated in those tweets above it’s often just rote. When the Cubs are on the brink of anything one is apparently obligated to mention it, just like one mentions Billy Goats or the Curse of the Bambino or any number of other bits of baseball lore. Bartman references are, at turns, laments of futility or signaling of one’s grasp of baseball history. Before those tweets were composed, the author’s synapses fired: “hey, this is like that one time that thing happened so I am obligated to mention that thing.” Joe Buck and John Smoltz will likely have a discussion about it on Saturday night. Fox’s production team is likely splicing together the video as we speak. Some deep-thinking longform writer is probably composing yet another turgid “Searching for Bartman” piece, the sort of which we get every few years.

But there’s a difference between Steve Bartman on the one hand and Billy Goats and curses on the other. Steve Bartman is a human being. One who was jeered and who had his friends and family attacked. One who, apparently, has felt it necessary to disappear from public view in order to protect his privacy and identity so as to not be scapegoated anew every time the Cubs threaten to do anything in the postseason. In this day and age even the justifiably infamous will make great efforts to capitalize on their infamy. They’ll give interviews or print up t-shirts or write a quickie book or any number of other things to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. Then we, as a society, tend to leave them alone. Bartman has done everything he can to be left alone, but we simply cannot do that, apparently. No one wants to leave him alone, his wishes to be left alone be damned.

We should let it go. Not because it’s not a genuinely interesting bit of baseball history — it is — but because there’s a human being at the center of it who had his life negatively altered as a result. He can’t go to the games of his favorite team anymore. If he still lives in or visits Chicago he likely worries about being recognized. His name is pretty distinct. How many job interviews or customer service telephone calls or exchanges of credit cards and checks at a restaurant have resulted in an awkward conversation in which he is immediately presumed to be infamous? Think of how bad you feel on those rare occasions when someone, rightly or wrongly, assumes the ethical high ground over you. Then realize that every single person with even a moderate knowledge of baseball does that, intentionally or otherwise, with Steve Bartman every time he ventures out into the world. The only way he could avoid that would be to change his name. Imagine if you were forced to change your name because people won’t stop reminding you of your unwarranted infamy.

I’ve seen some people suggest that, should the Cubs win one of the next two games, the club or someone representing it and/or its fans should make a public proclamation of forgiveness to Bartman. Maybe Bill Murray takes a microphone and says something Bill Murray-esque about how “Cubs Nation forgives you, ya knucklehead, come on home!” I wouldn’t be terribly impressed if that happened. Forgiveness, if any was even warranted in this case, should’ve come on October 15, 2003 when Bartman offered a sincere and heartfelt apology. Forgiveness should always be contingent on one’s sincere remorse. It should not be contingent on the Cubs finally getting their act together after long stretches of futility. To be honest, if there is any forgiveness to be granted here it’s Bartman forgiving everyone responsible for turning him into a punchline, not the other way around.

Let it go, baseball fans. Let it go, baseball media. Let’s try to spend today’s off day, tomorrow’s Game 6 and, if necessary, Sunday’s Game 7 without forcing the Steve Bartman narrative. Given the storylines of the 2016 NLCS — two interesting teams, several interesting players and the great starting pitchers the Cubs and Dodgers are going to feature in the next one or two games — it’d be superfluous as it is. But given that, at the heart of that narrative, is a man who has done nothing to deserve either the attention or the scorn he has received over the years, pushing it is even less justifiable than it would be if all things were equal.

Leave Steve Bartman alone. We’ve put him through enough already.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.