K-Drama Review: What Did ‘Stove League’ Throw Away To Keep Its Own Charms?

Credit: SBS

Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Jeon Gyeong Ju

Credit: SBS

The baseball club finished last for four years in a row. Nevertheless, he retains the manager and carries out a trade with the No. 4 hitter, the team’s franchise star, as soon as he takes office as a general manager (GM). Furthermore, he recruits a mercenary player who dodged military service and appoints his younger brother to the Records Analysis team. If this GM was newly appointed to a team you support in reality, you would file a petition immediately to make him sacked. His way of operating a club looks too weird to be called even as hell-like. He perfectly goes on all these policies, however, and quiets down the public criticism. These are so-called “strategies” that the general manager Baek Seung Soo (shortened to GM Baek below), the main character of the popular drama Stove League, has shown so far.

The term “stove league” originally refers to the period during which the front desk builds up force for the team after the end of each professional baseball season. There is no baseball game in this period, but the mood is as hot as in the regular season as the front desk does its best to strengthen the team’s power. Stove League, which has been aired since last December, has made Korean baseball fans to watch televisions with the fresh idea that has not been easily seen in Korea so far. This drama has also heated up the small screen, delivering the appeal of office dramas to the viewers who are not baseball fans.

Stove League is all the more interesting because it has abandoned three cliched elements of the existing dramas. Let’s find out the true value of Stove League, which has shown more upgraded perfection by eliminating the three things that hinder the flow of the story.


Just Focus on Baseball… And Romance, OUT!

Credit: SBS

A proper romance is like a lubricant to a drama, producing fun and stories, but an excessive romance leads the drama to lose its direction it takes and makes the story stuffy. As an office drama about a professional baseball team, Stove League rules out the romance as much as possible. The main character GM Baek should make his baseball team ‘Dreams’ (the last team of the league for four straight years) win a league championship, but his confrontation with the owner of the team (an antagonist who tries to get rid of his own baseball club) is often a drag. He has no time to look at a single romance because he always struggles with internal splits and external checks. There’s no story in which the main character falls in love with someone and leaves his main job behind, so the pace of development naturally increases. Other characters also run fiercely toward the common goals without being swayed by emotions and conveys charms of the office drama that is faithful to the basics.


Black-hat Villains & White-hat Heroes, All Together OUT!

Credit: SBS

There are villains in Stove League, too. Kwon Kyung Min, acting owner of Dreams, employs GM Baek, but creates a clever trap and puts him in a corner since then. Ko Se Hyuk, head of the Scout team, returns as an agent with a grudge after he was fired for corruption, disrupting negotiations for annual salaries of the Dreams players. Nonetheless, they are not just villains who start cases out of jealousy and envy. Every character plans and implements the goal he or she must achieve. These kinds of characters have reasons to be convinced even if they deserve to be hated, so GM Baek should rationally reverse the unreasonable plans they made.

GM Baek is also not a white-hat hero who is spoony. As soon as he takes the helm of the general manager, he trades the No. 4 hitter. And then he proceeds in cutting 30 percent of each player’s salary as the leaderships of the club demanded, even if he first complained of difficulties to cut salaries. The viewers would see what GM Baek really thought only after the end of the eighth episode. From the perspective of Dreams players, however, NamKoong Min (actor of GM Baek) looks more like a villain. Unlike Lee Se Young, head of the Operation team who thinks of her club and players first and works hard at anything, GM Baek rather scolds her saying, “I don’t work with humanists.” Well, Lee Se Young would have been the main character If she had been not in Stove League but in another drama.

Rather than distinguishing good from evil, Stove League brings out various episodes, stereoscopically describing the conflict process created by characters who pursue their own benefits. A person who interferes with the GM Baek also has a firm goal, so he or she plans carefully to worsen the crisis. On the other hand, GM Baek makes cold-hearted decisions to prepare for a thrilling counterattack even though he must endure criticism for victory. Thanks to their showdown, which is as dynamic as baseball games, Stove League continues its story that is hard to predict to the end without a character who loses his/her charms or disappears halfway.


The Common Repertoire of Sports Dramas, OUT!

Credit: SBS

Many sports dramas were occasionally broadcasted in Korea, but there are few impressive works except for MBC‘s legendary one, The Last Match (1994). Some even say, “Sports dramas don’t hit at all [in Korea].” Nevertheless, the popularity of Stove League is attributed to the absence of a common repertoire in sports dramas, so-called “Only passion makes success.”

In the existing sports dramas, a hot-blooded main character joins the team that doesn’t perform very well. The main character and his/her team overcome all hardships and difficulties just by their passion and efforts. Though it is touching, the mournful story is somewhat cliched and shows no professionalism related to the sport. Baseball fans might not have watched Stove League if GM Baek had done the same things.

Stove League highlights that you should be cold rationally even though you are warm-hearted. Instead of appealing to emotions, GM Baek solves the problem with cool logic and produces dramatic effects. When trading the team’s No. 4 hitter in the first and second episodes, he naturally reveals the legitimacy of the trade by penetrating the blind spots in the data. Moreover, when recruiting Gil Chang Ju as a mercenary in the fifth and sixth episodes, GM Baek coolly analyzes Gil’s current situation and uses his desperate mind to sign a contract with Dreams, rather than saying, “You can make a comeback.” He is super good at convincing viewers by suggesting a practical solution for victory, not by shouting a hip-shooting “Way to go.”

The story created by the scriptwriter Lee Shin Hwa (also known as a real baseball fan) becomes more realistic, describing the system of Korean professional baseball that Lee thoroughly researched and reflecting the advices from various professional players. The exhilaration of its own persuasion, which breaks down the old repertoire of sports dramas and convinces both baseball fans and non-fans, makes the hot Stove League even hotter. (8/10)

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