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Friday, May 31
History in the waiting

By Michael Kim
Special to

Wendell Kim stands out on the Montreal Expos' bench. Even at 5-foot-5. Even on one of the most racially and ethnically diverse rosters in Major League Baseball.

Wendell Kim
Wendell Kim, left, is now the Montreal Expos bench coach, but he earned a reputation for being aggressive as a third-base coach with the Red Sox.
There's Vladimir Guerrero, the All-Star right fielder and one of two players on the team from the Dominican Republic. Jose Vidro, the hard-hitting second baseman, is one of three players who hail from Puerto Rico. In the bullpen, there is Graeme Lloyd, an Australian, and Masato Yoshii and Tomokazu Ohka, two of the 15 Japanese players on major-league rosters this season. And there are others: two from Panama, two more from Venezuela and another from Columbia.

In an era of economic globalization and enlightened ideals, baseball long has been a pacesetter of racial and cultural change. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, coincidentally, in Montreal before making major-league history in 1947. Frank Robinson, now the Expos' manager, was the first African American to skipper a team (1975). And most recently, Hideo Nomo's arrival to the major leagues in 1995 ushered in an era of Asian athletes who are making an impact on professional sports beyond just the baseball diamond.

But with change being the evolving process that it is, Kim is left to sit and wait for the time to come when baseball is ready for its first Asian-American manager.

"It's my last goal," said Kim, the Expos' 52-year-old, workaholic bench coach who is the first Korean American to wear a major-league uniform.

In an initiative intended to encourage teams to pursue minority candidates for managerial and front-office positions, Major League Baseball requires teams to interview candidates of color. So far, the effect has been positive. Since commissioner Bud Selig's mandate three years ago, the number of minority field managers has more than tripled, from three to 10. None, however, are Asian American.

Lenn Sakata
Kim, in fact, is the only Asian-American coach in the majors. And there is only one Asian-American manager today on the highest level of baseball's minor leagues, Lenn Sakata of the Fresno Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A farm team.

"Will there ever be an Asian manager? I don't know," said Sakata, a native of Hawaii who played on four teams during his 11 seasons in the majors. "That's not a goal of mine. If it ever happened, that would shock me."

'Wave 'Em In Wendell'
Kim's professional pedigree is impressive. Hand-picked by Robinson to be the Expos' bench coach when Robinson began constructing a coaching staff after taking over the team in the offseason, Kim's coaching career spans parts of four decades.

His long climb to the majors as a coach began in 1979 after the minor-league veteran was released by the San Francisco Giants in spring training. During his eight seasons as a coach in the Giants' minor-league system, the Honolulu native earned California League and Texas League Manager of the Year honors. That was followed by eight more seasons with the Giants as a first- and third-base coach.

If I were ever in a position to hire a manager, he'd certainly be on the top of my list. And if I were even in a position to suggest a manager, he'd certainly be one of the guys I would certainly recommend.
Expos manager Frank Robinson on his bench coach, Wendell Kim
It was with the Boston Red Sox that he earned a reputation as one of the game's most aggressive third-base coaches -- and the nickname "Wave 'Em In Wendell." Before joining Robinson and the Expos, Kim managed the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A club in Indianapolis.

Kim often works eight hours on game days -- before the first pitch -- going over advance scouting reports of opponents' pitchers and hitters.

"He's a very good baseball person. I lean on Wendell a lot," Robinson said. "He's well-organized and keeps attention to details.

"If I were ever in a position to hire a manager, he'd certainly be on the top of my list. And if I were even in a position to suggest a manager, he'd certainly be one of the guys I would certainly recommend."

Of course, the former star second baseman at Cal-Poly Pomona understands his dream job does not come with a great deal of security. Just this season, five managers have lost their jobs since the beginning of spring training.

"When you hear about managers getting fired like that, you have to wonder if it's better to coach," Kim said. "I guess you're hired to be fired, but I still do think I'd like to manage."

Already a footnote in history
Quiet and patient are among the words colleagues and observers have used in describing Sakata, who became the first Japanese American to play in the American League as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977.

Lenn Sakata
Before Cal Ripken Jr. became a fixture at shortstop, Lenn Sakata turned double plays for the Orioles.
His most famous link to baseball history also makes him the answer to a trivia question: Sakata was the last shortstop to start for the Baltimore Orioles before Cal Ripken Jr. began his iron-man streak of 2,632 consecutive games played over a 16-year span.

Several months ago, Sakata vividly recalled for the Fresno Bee his memories and emotions of June 30, 1982.

"That day, I came to the park, I look at the lineup, and my name's not on it," Sakata said. "I see Ripken at shortstop, and as soon as I took two steps, I'm thinking, 'I'm not going to play anymore.' Ripken had already hit something like 20 home runs, and his average was rising, and I knew that was it for me.

"Looking back, who would have thought that this kid would come in and be that kind of player? We thought he'd play in the big leagues, but we never envisioned he'd be the type of player who would play every day.

"It's actually nice now because I'm tied to someone that's going into the Hall of Fame."

But Sakata, who ended up platooning at second base and helping the Orioles win the World Series in 1983, has no desire to make more history -- or become the answer to another trivia question. He claims he has no aspirations of returning to the big leagues as a coach or manager. He spent parts of 15 seasons in those roles in the minor leagues, as well as a four-year coaching stint with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan's Pacific League.

"What I felt was important to do was to pass along what I learned and give people I can reach or touch a chance to improve their game so they can go to the next level," Sakata said.

The time will come
Whether Sakata or Kim or someone else reaches the "next level" to become the first Asian-American manager in the majors, the historic moment is approaching.

"As our game gets more international, with more players and fans around the game, there will be more opportunity for Asians as managers and in the front office," said Major League Baseball spokesperson Patrick Courtney.

Kim, who fancies himself a magician, knows the cards are stacked against him this time. He realizes age and timing may prevent him from getting his shot at his dream job. Certainly, working in Montreal may not help his cause. Major League Baseball's contraction plans could eliminate his chances to become a baseball pioneer.

Wendell Kim
Wendell Kim
Yet, hope is alive and well.

Already, since Opening Day, three minority coaches -- Detroit's Luis Pujols, Kansas City's Tony Peña and Jerry Royster of Milwaukee -- have become first-time major-league managers.

Still, that's an opportunity that has remained elusive for Kim.

"I understand the situation and if I don't get a shot, I'll still have great memories and look back on a good time in a game that I love," Kim said. "But I still think of it as my last goal."

Michael Kim is an anchor for ESPNEWS

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