Some of you might decide to skip this drama because you’re just not a big baseball enthusiast, but if you did that you’d be making a huge mistake. Hot Stove League is a show you absolutely should not miss.
The baseball season just ended and Dreams has come in last, the same place they have been in for the past three years. Founded in 1982, Dreams has never, in all that time, won a championship and Jaesong Group, the parent company and owner of Dreams, is ready to cut their losses. They decide to hire Baek Seung-Soo as the new general manager to take them through one more year, after which Dreams will be no more. Only a tiny handful of people know the plan to disband the team, everyone else (the players, coaches, and staff) is in the dark, going about business as usual, without knowing the sad fate that awaits their beloved Dreams.
Baek Seung-Soo has been the general manager of a handball team, a ssireum (wrestling) team, and an ice hockey team, all of which won championships. He admits he doesn’t know baseball well but insures everyone he can learn on the job. Stoic, serious, rational, level-headed, even tempered, hardworking, responsible – all words that accurately describe General Manager Baek’s personality. Happy or sad, angry or placid, the man always looks and sounds the same. Even when he says harsh words, he throws them out like he is having an every day conversation. Sadly, the man has buried a lot of pain deep in his heart, blaming himself for things he wasn’t responsible for, which may be the reason he keeps to himself and doesn’t smile much. At first, his goal as general manager is to help the Dreams win the championship and then walk away after its disbandment, but somewhere along the way things change and he becomes determined to rebuild Dreams and make them the best baseball team in the league.
As a young child, Lee Se-Young would anxiously accompany her father to Dreams games and, as a result, grew to love baseball. She was fortunate enough to get a job with her favorite team and, in doing so, has accomplished something no other woman has – she is the first female operations team leader in professional baseball. She works diligently in her efforts to help the Dreams succeed because of her passion and affection for the team. Although Team Leader Lee is friendly, often wearing an endearing smile, she is also a tireless worker who never stops thinking of ways to better the Dreams. Se-Young lives with her widowed mother and is the sole breadwinner of the family.
Director Kwon Kyung-Min works for his filthy rich uncle, the owner and CEO of Jaesong Geoup. He was put in charge of Dreams and isn’t happy the team has been performing so poorly, mainly because it is a reflection on him and he is desperate to please his uncle. He hires Baek Seung-Soo because his resume was the only one that mentioned winning championships, so in Director Keon’s eyes Seung-Soo has had a “golden career.” Director Kwon tells Manager Baek that he expects the team to win the championship so he can disband them while they are on a high. But the Dreams director ends up clashing with his new hire when the man begins to show his true worth as a general manager.
Han Jae-Hee works on the operations team, directly under Lee Se-Young, whom he has a crush on. He is the one she calls on to do whatever needs to be done – a stand-in mascot, a scribe in meetings, a commentator at a practice game, a ballpen stand-in, and much more. He comes from a wealthy family and, because he was hired through connections, works hard to prove he is worthy of his job.
While still in high school, Baek Young-Soo had a promising future as a baseball player but an accident put him in a wheelchair and ended that career before it even began. However, it didn’t stop him from loving the sport. Young-Soo lives with his older brother, the newly appointed general manager of the Dreams, Baek Seung-Soo. The two men get along fine and love each other dearly but there is an unspoken tension between them.
For information about the handsome, amazing, versatile actor who plays General Manager Baek Seung-Soo, Namgung Min, I invite you to go to my Distorted review.
You can find information about Park Eun-Bin, the darling actress who plays the part of Operations Team Leader Lee Se-Young, in my Judge vs. Judge review.
This isn’t the first time Namgung Min and Park Eun-Bin have worked together. In 2013 they were the second leads in the Kdrama Hur Jun, The Original Story.
In all honesty, I am not a fan of baseball and have always found it to be slow and boring (give me speedy, back and forth basketball and ice hockey any day of the week). What I know about the sport could fit on a half sheet of paper, in other words not much at all. Yet, this drama was very easy for me to follow and quite interesting. I’m positive it was the excellent writing that was responsible for me not getting lost in all the operational parts of the story. Hot Stove League is based on Lee Shin-Hwa’s screenplay, which was one of the winners in the 2H 2016 Drama Screenplay Contest. Those writing contests have produced some exceptionally good Kdramas over the years.
I wish I could tell you the story has a great romance as a subplot but aside from Han Jae-Hee having a one-sided crush on Lee Se-Young, and an awkward moment when someone walks in on a private meeting between the general manager and the operations team leader, there’s not even a single flirtatious glance. I wanted Lee Se-Young to knock down the wall Baek Seung-Soo had built around his heart, but we get nothing. Darn!
As I got closer and closer to the last episode I kept wondering how the story was going to end. I was thrilled when things were left a bit open-ended. The way it came to a close was fine, but it’s also a great segway for a Hot Stove League sequel. Yes, please!
My favorite line in the show comes from General Manager Baek, who says it so matter-of-factly to Director Kwon, quoting former football (yes, football) player Barry Switzer – “Some people are born on third-base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” Let that sink in a bit. It’s great! I’m sure we all know someone like that. Hopefully, others don’t see ME in that way.
Hot Stove League did very well, beginning its run with a 3.3% rating and ending it at 19.1% – second place nationwide! It’s episodes averaged between second and fourth place weekly. The drama was so popular that while the show was being broadcast a Dreams Magazine was released online which contained interviews with the Dreams players. And some loyal fans of the drama created Jeasong Dreams materials as if they were a real life team. How awesomely supportive is that?
In reality, many baseball stadiums sell food named after star players, so Hot Stove League’s writer followed tradition by having a hamburger named in honor of the Dreams’ star batter, Lim Dong-Gyu. And when a well-loved pitcher is drafted to the team they decided to name a hot dog after him. Kind of a fun idea.
In the show a few Dreams players use the jersey numbers of some authentic top Korean pitchers. But it wasn’t just the jersey numbers that were authentic. The show featured some real former players – Lim Dong-Goo’s baseball scenes are played by Kim Jeong-Don, a former Doosan Bear and current coach. Kim Gi-Moo, who does Jang Woo-Seok’s baseball scenes, was a Hanhwa Eagle, and Kim Kwon-Sik’s baseball playing shots were done by Yoo In-Hyeok who was also a real-life former baseball player. Also, some of the actors have an athletic past. Jo Han-Sun played soccer at one point, and Cha Yub is a former swimmer. Ha Do-Kwon majored in vocals at Seoul National University which makes the part where a coach tells him he is so noisy he can sing when he quits playing baseball quite fun. Also, in the first episode we hear the voices of real life SBS analyst Lee Soon-Cheol and commentator Jung Woo-Young. There was a plan to actually show their faces but only their voices were used, due to time constraints.
During the drama we learn the average annual operating cost of a baseball team in 2018 was 28.4 billion won, about 23 and a half million U.S. dollars! Yikes! I had no idea it was that much.
Hot Stove League has 16 one hour episodes. However, there is a 17th one that has nothing to do with the storyline. It simply gives fans lots of information about the show, kind of a behind the scenes look of the drama, complete with conversations with the actors. They also point out two really creative shots. I’m going to tell you about them so you won’t miss the excellent imagination of the writer/director. In the first one, General Manager Baek Seung-Soo is outside cradling a Dream team member’s baby in his arms and the stars over his head and to the left make a baseball. The other one shows Seung-Soo walking on a bridge over the ocean to talk to Lim Dong-Gyu and in the light on the waves, to the right of the bridge, we can see another baseball. Pretty cool.
What exactly does hot stove league mean? Well, Wikipedia says, “In baseball, hot stove league is the sport’s off-season. The phrase does not denote an actual league, but instead calls up images of baseball fans gathering around a hot stove during the cold winter months, discussing their favorite baseball teams and players. The term has also come to refer to the wave of… player transactions (contract negotiations, re-signings, trades, free agency, etc.) that occur between seasons. Since most free-agent signings and trades occur during the off-season, this time of significant player transactions (including rumors and speculation about possible trades), is often referred to as the hot stove league or more simply, the hot stove.” The drama defines stove league this way, “The time after the pro season ends when a club makes an effort to strengthen the team.”
The show’s sound track is nothing to brag about, but Cue Sign is. It’s my favorite upbeat Kdrama song so far this year. Lee Won-Suk’s voice perfectly matches the wonderful music and there’s no way I’d be able to sit still while listening to this song even if I were taped to a chair, like Jeong Seo-Yeon in Woman of 9.9 Billion (haha). Kevin Oh sings Mind, not one I cared for but it has a great key change near the end. As the Cold Wind Passes, gently crooned by Oliver (whose vocal range is amazing in this song) is a slow ballad that makes me think of Baek Seung-Soo – not the general manager but the man who lives each day with the sadness, guilt, and sorrow he has kept buried deep down in his soul.
Munhak Baseball Stadium in Inchon, home of the South Korean professional baseball team SK Wyverns, was a major filming location for Hot Stove League. A huge chunk of the show takes place at the Dreams’ building and on the baseball field. There is also a time when Baek Seung-Soo, Lee Se-Young, and Han Jae-Hee go to the U.S.A. to sign a new player to the team. The story takes them to California but the filming for those scenes was actually done in Hawaii.
Hot Stove League is a wonderful, feel good story – kind of like a baseball version of Rocky. The writer gives us hope by helping us remember that in life everyone strikes out now and then but a home run is possible. We just need to keep swinging and never give up!
Thumbs up acting
Great baseball sequences
Leaves the possibility for a sequel
No really, full-on, evil bad guy
Would like to have had a romance weaved into the story
Only a couple really great songs on the soundtrack