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Former White Sox bullpen catcher Man Soo Lee still impacting young fans

NBC Sports Chicago

Former White Sox bullpen catcher Man Soo Lee still impacting young fans

Excuse me while I get nostalgic and recognize White Sox legend Man Soo Lee.

OK, he might not be a legend to everyone, but for anyone who was born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s and frequented the left field bleachers at Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field between 2000 and 2006, you probably know of Man Soo Lee. In fact, there’s a good chance he threw you a baseball at some point.

Man Soo Lee – or Lee Man-soo in his native South Korea – was the White Sox' bullpen catcher from 2000-06. He has a World Series ring to his name and was one of the most fun-loving members of the 2005 White Sox.

Why am I writing about some random bullpen catcher? Well, it starts with Lee being briefly shown on the television broadcast of the May 8, 2005 White Sox-Blue Jays game that was replayed Monday on NBC Sports Chicago as part of our #SoxRewind series.

Just that quick shot of Man Soo Lee brought back some great memories of being at the ballpark. Like many young baseball fans, I was the type of kid who loved to get to games super early for batting practice. I would camp out in a perfect spot in the front row next to the White Sox bullpen, which meant Lee was close by, usually shagging fly balls.

And he was very generous with those baseballs.

Lee’s English wasn’t perfect, but he could still communicate with fans and was always goofing around. It might take a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to get a ball from him.

Lee came to recognize the fans he saw often, and that included me. I’d see him on the road in Minneapolis or Kansas City and he’d come by the stands, thank me for making the trip and usually drop me a ball.

Today, working as a reporter, that type of interaction doesn’t seem like a big deal. But back then, as a young teenager, the bullpen catcher knowing your name was one of the coolest things in the world.

And I know I’m not the only one who still appreciates Man Soo Lee’s relationship with the fans. Just in sending out that tweet on Monday, I received similar sentiments in response:

Sadly, in doing some research for this piece, I came to find out that while Lee always looked like he was having so much fun, his time in Chicago wasn’t easy on his family.

"It was a very tough time. Nobody understood my English although I studied it quite hard in Korea,” Lee told the Korea Times in December. “Racial discrimination was also bad, especially in the minor leagues. In the Major League, it was much better. Players were more relaxed."

The thing is, Man Soo Lee is an actual baseball legend in Korea. He was one of the first stars of the Korea Baseball Organization and pulled off the Triple Crown in 1984, leading the league in home runs, RBIs and batting average.

But in that same Korea Times story, he said he wasn’t prepared for being a nobody in the United States and spoke of the “meaninglessness” of his fame. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s also made things tough. It’s not like bullpen catchers make a lot of money, even in Major League Baseball.

"We didn't have money,” he said. “We ordered one drink at Starbucks and shared it between (my wife and two sons). Chicago is very cold and one night we lost electricity. To save money, we stayed home under one blanket. It was a really tough time, but I got to spend lots of time with my boys and did many things with my family."

Lee went back to South Korea in 2006 and eventually became manager of the SK Wyverns. Today, he’s helping develop baseball in the country of Laos, teaching the game to underprivileged children. 

And hopefully he knows he had a strong impact on young baseball fans during his time in Chicago, too.

The White Sox-Rangers game from May 17, 2005 will air Thursday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras set the ALCS tone, even in defeat

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras set the ALCS tone, even in defeat

When he took the mound for the second of his three straight Game 1 starts in the 2005 postseason, Jose Contreras hadn’t lost since Aug. 15.

Contreras’ nine-game winning streak came to an end that night, the only time the White Sox lost during their playoff run. His Game 1 performance was the only one by a White Sox starter in that series that didn’t go the distance.

But the lone blemish on the team’s 11-1 playoff record that fall had nothing to do with an off night by the guy who transformed into Ozzie Guillen’s ace over the final month and a half of the regular season. Contreras lasted 8.1 innings, yielding to Neal Cotts for the only two outs the bullpen needed to get in the ALCS.

It’s perhaps somewhat lost to history because of what followed. Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and then Contreras himself threw four consecutive complete games to fly the White Sox first pennant in 46 years. But Contreras was just a hair shy of that good the first time around. He allowed just three runs, only seven hits and no walks. One of the only hard-hit balls he gave up all night went over the fence for a solo homer. His White Sox lost by just a run.

But when searching for blame, there was no way anyone was pointing at Contreras, who stayed ace-like, even in defeat, giving his team a chance to pull off one of those miracle victories they made look so easy during that 2005 campaign.

But unlike what happened the following night, when A.J. Pierzynski ran to first base and into White Sox history to jumpstart that evening’s listless offense, there was no spark in the first contest against the Angels, who were on their third time zone in four nights.

Garrett Anderson’s home run started the scoring, and the Angels went to 3-0 thanks to a two-run rally in the third, one pieced together on hits both through and on the infield. Joe Crede homered and Pierzynski singled in a run as the White Sox tried to claw their way back.

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras went 'ace mode' to save the season

But that Pierzynski RBI knock came in the fourth inning, and from there, be it against starter Paul Byrd, ace reliever Scot Shields or flamethrowing closer Francisco Rodriguez, the White Sox had just one prime chance. That didn’t come until the eighth, the only one of the final five innings in which they put more than one man on base. But that opportunity was squandered when Scott Podsednik couldn’t bunt Juan Uribe into scoring position. That meant Uribe couldn’t come home on Jermaine Dye’s single to right field, and Paul Konerko’s pop fly to center field ended the threat.

It was a startling change of pace for an offense that raked against the Boston Red Sox in an ALDS sweep. The White Sox scored 14 runs and hit five homers in Game 1 of that series. Tadahito Iguchi came through with a clutch three-run bomb off David Wells in Game 2. And Konerko hit a tie-breaking, game-winning two-run homer high over the Green Monster in the sweep-completing Game 3.

That power was nowhere to be found in Game 1 of the ALCS. And though those White Sox had more ways to score runs than just hitting the ball out of the ballpark, their much ballyhooed “Ozzie ball” didn’t work, either. Podsednik couldn’t successfully sacrifice in the eighth inning, and the same fate befell Aaron Rowand an inning later. Both Podsednik and Pierzynski were thrown out trying to steal second base.

No small ball. No Paul ball. No over-the-wall ball.

What else could Contreras do? White Sox starters put the team on their backs in Games 2 through 5, but boy did Contreras do his best to start that streak in Game 1. Two more outs, and it would have been five straight complete games.

Your Game 1 starter is supposed to set the tone. And while the White Sox lost behind their Game 1 starter in the ALCS, Contreras most definitely set a tone that was followed from there on out.

The only difference is that the White Sox won the rest of their games.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 2 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

MLB The Show: White Sox overcome early deficit to take down Orioles

MLB The Show: White Sox overcome early deficit to take down Orioles

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Orioles 10-5
Record: 26-29, 3rd in A.L. Central (4.0 GB of Twins)

W: Jimmy Cordero (3-0)
L: Keegan Akin (2-4)

Game summary: After being as many as 11 games behind the division-leading Twins, the White Sox are now nipping at the heels of the top two teams in the division. And this hot streak is largely due to the offensive explosion over the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday’s affair vs. the Orioles was no different, although for the first time in quite some time, the White Sox had to dig themselves out of a hole. Michael Kopech had a really hard time warding off Baltimore singles. Despite a lack of hard contact, the Orioles hit four base knocks and walked twice in the second to take a 4-0 lead.

The South Siders immediately answered. Eloy Jimenez hit a solo homer to get things started in the top of the third. Then, Tim Anderson slapped an RBI single to center, knocking in Nick Madrigal. The inning’s piece-de-resistance came off the bat of Yasmani Grandal. The White Sox catcher hit a no-doubter to left for a grand slam and Chicago went from down four to up by a pair.

After Jose Abreu extended his hitting streak to 19 games in the seventh with an infield single, Anderson put this affair out of reach with a two-run homer the opposite way. The shortstop’s 12th homer of the season gave the White Sox a three-run lead, more than enough to secure the win over the Orioles and extend the team’s winning streak to eight games.

White Sox lineup

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-4, R (.307 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, HR (21), RBI, R (.268 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 0-5 (.256 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 2-4, RBI, R (.259 BA)
Jose Abreu: 1-4, BB, 2 R (.307 BA)
Tim Anderson: 2-5, HR (12), 3 RBI, 2 R (.302 BA)
Luis Robert: 2-3, 2B, 2 R (.243 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 3-4, HR (19), 5 RBI, R (.308 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-4 (.244 BA)

Scoring summary:

Bottom second

Ramon Urias singled to left field, D.J. Stewart scored. 1-0 BAL.
Austin Wynns singled to right field, Austin Hays scored. 2-0 BAL.
Jose Iglesias singled to left field, Ramon Urias scored. 3-0 BAL.
Trey Mancini flew out to center field, Austin Wynns scored. 4-0 BAL.

Top third

Eloy Jimenez homered to left field. 4-1 BAL.
Tim Anderson singled to center field, Nick Madrigal scored. 4-2 BAL.
Yasmani Grandal homered to left field, Jose Abreu, Anderson and Luis Robert scored. 6-4 CHW.

Bottom sixth

Iglesias singled to center field, Urias scored. 6-5 CHW.

Top seventh

Anderson homered to center field, Abreu scored. 8-5 CHW.
Grandal singled to center field, Robert scored. 9-5 CHW.

Top eighth

Madrigal singled to right field, Edwin Encarnacion scored. 10-5 CHW.

Notable performance: It seems like every other day we are highlighting Jimenez in this section but it’s for good reason: he just keeps on slugging. With Tuesday’s solo homer, Jimenez has homered six times in the last seven games. His 21 homers and 53 RBIs both lead the American League.

Next game: Wednesday, May 27 - Game 56: White Sox at Orioles (Lucas Giolito, 2-7, 5.55 ERA vs John Means, 2-6, 3.05 ERA)

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