Photo: LG Twins raises the Korean Series trophy. Credit: Kukmin Ilbo.
The Twins, one of Seoul’s three pro baseball teams, didn’t always play second fiddle to the capital’s favorite Doosan Bears 두산 베어스. It used to be one of the premier teams of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), boasting two championships (1990 and 1994), regularly appearing in the postseason, and inspiring a massive fan base.
But a downward spiral in the 2000s made the LG Twins the New York Mets to the Doosan Bears’ New York Yankees and earned the team a reputation for excellence in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Even recent improvements felt as if they were calculated to get fans’ hopes up before the inevitable gut-punch: last year, the Twins finished second place in the regular season and made it all the way to the playoff semifinals before reverting to form.
The Twins’ owners - the Ku family of LG Group - are famously committed to their team, in a league where chaebols run baseball teams as if they were semi-obligatory charity projects. In 1995, Ku Bon-mu 구본무, then head of the LG Group, bought giant urns of fine Japanese shōchū to be drunk at the celebration for the team’s next championship. Since 1998, Ku has also promised a Rolex Daytona Leopard (currently valued at more than USD 100k) for the Twins player who wins MVP in the team’s next Korean Series win.
The prizes gathered dust for nearly three decades - but on November 13, the LG Twins won a five-game series against the KT Wiz, capturing the Korean Series championship for the first time in 29 years. Team captain and shortstop O Ji-hwan 오지환, batting 0.316 for the series with three home runs, won the MVP award and the Rolex. O said he would return the watch to the Ku family, as it has a greater sentimental value to the team owners as an heirloom from Ku Bon-mu, the grandfather of current team owner Ku Gwang-mo 구광모.
The 45-year-old Ku, the fourth-generation successor of LG Group, is famous for his personal investment in the Twins as well. One of the first things that Ku did after taking over the chaebol in 2018 was to interview Twins general manager Cha Myeong-seok 차명석. Cha recalls that Ku asked: “What’s the difference between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox?” By invoking the 2017 and 2018 World Series champions, Ku was making clear his expectation that the LG Twins would become a hybrid of the two, with a robust farm system like the Astros and tactical free agent signing like the Red Sox.
Cha told Ku he that it would take three years to build the farm system, during which time the team would not court a major free agent. Ku supported Cha’s plan with a brand new practice facility, the LG Champions Park in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do Province 경기도 이천, where Cha raised a robust farm system. Staying true to Cha’s promise, the Twins did not sign any big-name free agents until 2021, when the team began an upswing that carried it through 2022, culminating with this year’s championship.