UPDATE: This information was released by Wendell Kim’s family through their spokesman Rob Weber Tues. Feb. 17
Former Giants, Red Sox, Expos, and Cubs coach Wendell Kim, passed away on Saturday at the age of 64. He is survived by his wife Natasha and his son Donald.
Services will be held on Sunday, March 1st at:
400 South Power Road
Mesa, Arizona 85206
Condolences can be sent to Natasha Kim at:
18674 E. Aubrey Glen Road
Queen Creek, AZ 85142
Sally Rains, Wendell’s co-author forYouth Baseball : A Coach’s and Parent’s Guide,” recently wrote an article about WK for the STLSportsPage.com (re-printed below) in which she tries to bring awareness to the disease. You can read the article at:
If you would like to help those still in need, perhaps making a donation in Wendell’s name would help. The following organizations could use the money to continue research into the disease:
UCSF Memory and Aging Center (http://memory.ucsf.edu/)
Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alz.org/)
WK was a great friend to many of us in the fantasy camp community. He was the inspiration for our ‘Melee in Mesa’ tournament which began in 2006. He actually played in the event several times and looked forward to our arrival in Arizona each year. He leaves behind a legacy of baseball knowledge on his web site at:
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Posted: Aug. 24, 2014
In 1996 We were living in Scottsdale, AZ and took our sons to a baseball clinic put on by the San Francisco Giants. As the players worked out with the kids, Wendell Kim, Giants third base coach talked to the parents. I really liked what he was talking about, and we eventually co-authored a book called “Youth Baseball: A Coach’s and Parent’s Guide” (The Art & Science of Coaching Series, 1998). He used this book for many years at clinics and talks. This is his story, and our tribute to a friend. – Sally Tippett Rains
What Ever Happened To Wendell Kim?
By Sally Tippett Rains
Wendell Kim, 64, a long-time major and minor league coach should be spending his days playing golf near his home in Arizona, like many others in his profession. He had a long career with the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and several minor league clubs.
Instead he is in a silent world of his own–all by himself. The world of Alzheimer’s Disease. And–according to a friend of his– he’s not coming back.
Rob Weber, (shown left in a 2002 picture) Kim’s friend since 1994, who ran his web site is good friends with Kim, Kim’s wife Natasha and son Don.
“Three friends and I decided to attend the San Francisco Giants Fantasy Camp back in 1994,” said Weber. “We were all big baseball fans ,looking forward to a week of baseball games, stories and adventures. W.K. was a coach at the fantasy camp and was very popular amongst the campers. He was one of those guys who didn’t need to be told your name more than once. To Giants fans, he was our hustling base coach with a larger than life persona. Here was our chance to meet the guy we always saw on television and to learn a little about who he really was.
“On the first night of camp, each camper had to stand up in front of the other campers and staff and introduce himself–name, where you were from, and why you were there. Countless clichés followed like ‘I’m here to meet my boyhood idols’ or ‘I want to learn from the best’. My friends challenged me to say something different, so I said ‘My name is Rob Weber and I’m here to see Wendell Kim naked’. The room thought I was hilarious, but not so much Mr. Kim. Wendell spent the rest of the week making me pay for my comment, but what really happened was the start of a great friendship.”
Weber is involved in the West Coast Fantasy Baseball Association (westcoastfantasybaseball.com), a group of more than 600, and over the years many people ask him ‘whatever happened to Wendell Kim?’ or ‘How is W.K. (as he was often called) doing?’ The answer is often hard to give of the once vibrant athlete and coach who never stood in one place long, and was famous for running out to his position as third base coach with the Giants, and then with his other jobs. He is now dying and would not recognize Weber if he went to visit.
“His Early Onset Alzheimers came on fast and strong,” said Weber. “It robbed him of his short term memory first and then the disease slowly shut down his ability to function on a daily basis.”
Alzheimer’s Disease is often misunderstood. Early Onset Alzheimer’s is not just the beginning of a disease, it is a type of the disease itself. According to WebMD.com, “This is a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease in which people are diagnosed with the disease before age 65. Less than 10% of all Alzheimer’s patients have this type. The most common type of Alzheimer’s Disease is Late Onset Alzheimer’s, accounting for about 90% of cases, and usually occurs after age 65, according to the website. Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) is the third type and most rare, it is entirely inherited.
Kim was always a very focused person, full of energy, the one who lit up the room with his stories or magic tricks– that is before he got sick. For a young person like Kim to begin losing his memory –in the early stages– it was tough on him. He knew he was having “memory problems” and it began affecting his everyday life.Throughout his major league life and afterwards, Kim loved to do magic tricks.
“Businessmen would actually invite me out to dinner to help close a deal,” Kim told his co-author during the time they were writing the book. “I would do magic tricks at the table and talk about baseball. It set everyone at ease and was a great way for them to do business.”
“I have seen W.K. perform his magic act many times,” said Weber. “He was an average magician, but was very committed to each trick. He performed them at many of the fantasy camps, in the major league clubhouses, and at events he was asked to speak at. It was an icebreaker that allowed W.K. to connect with people from all walks of life. As the Alzheimer’s took hold, it became more and more difficult for him to perform the act. I think this was a sad realization for Wendell that the disease was winning.”
Toward the end of his career, (2005) Kim started to experience some loss of his short-term memory. Many tests were run to determine the cause, but nothing definitive was found.
He knew his memory loss was getting worse and he wrote a letter to his co-author sometime around 2006. The letter said simply: “Call me, I am having memory problems.”
They had kept in touch in the years after co-writing “Youth Baseball, A Coach’s and Parent’s Guide.” Kim had enjoyed showing off his book and often sold them at clinics. He put a lot of work into, and his perfectionism and determination to be the best showed during the time of writing. There will be no more book signings, like the one shown left. The book is out of print, he is no longer able to promote it. He does not remember writing it.
Hi co-author called him numerous times, but he never answered his phone. She never spoke to him again. But she never forgot him.
As his memory loss worsened his wife Natasha, (called Tash by her friends) took him to doctors and then there were more tests performed, and trips to the Mayo Clinic. It was determined that Kim had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, which is–so far–incurable, degenerative and terminal in nature.
While having been told that Wendell Kim’s Alzheimer’s Disease has progressed too far for him to recover from, it is not the intention of this writer to cast a “no hope” cloud over the disease. There is very much hope and it lies in research and funding needed to perform that research. If Wendell’s story can help another family member or friend to have a loved one survive, that is the intent. Wendell Kim is anyone. He is a son, a husband, a father, a grandpa, and also a major league coach and manager. His story is the face of Alzheimer’s Disease and with medical advancements those working on it think there is hope.
Natasha Kim is not the first member of the MLB family to experience a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Former Texas Ranger pitcher José Guzman lost his mother to the disease and has started a charity to raise awareness and assist individuals and their families who are suffering from the debilitating disease.
In 1983 when President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, no one could have known that years later he would be diagnosed with it and eventually die from it. Singer, Glen Campbell is wrapping up his “Goodbye Tour”, which ends on November 30th. After 50 years in the music business and numerous Grammys he has Alzheimer’s. Also in the sports world, Pat Summit coached the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team to an amazing 8 NCAA championships and retired with a record of 1,098-208—due to Alzheimer’s. (A statue and tribute to Summitt , shown left, is at the University of Tennessee) Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson passed away from it at age 67.
Natasha Kim was devoted to her husband, seeing to it that he got the best medical care. She and their son Donald still go to visit him, but he generally does not know who they are. He rarely has visitors because his family and friends want him to be as comfortable as he can be, and when he doesn’t recognize someone it upsets him. He has lost weight and the energetic spitfire he used to be is only a small flicker of himself, but no one who knows him will forget his larger than life presence, even if he was diminutive in height.
Wendell Kim (Posing in picture, right with Los Angeles Dodgers camper Harry Horowitz who visited with Kim on a Cubs roadtrip) has led quite a life. He was that third base coach for the San Francisco Giants (for eight years) who was known for running out to this position. He was the first Korean-American to wear a major-league uniform and has been considered one of the most aggressive third base coaches in the majors. Kim was the third base coach for the Boston Red Sox from 1997-2000.
He left the major leagues for a while to become a manager in the minors for the Indianapolis Indians. He was so proud of his managerial position and when his co-author made a visit to Indianapolis to watch a game, he let her sons be batboys, one for each team. It was a thrilling night for them because Nomar Garciapara was on an injury rehab so they got to meet him.
He returned to his position as third base coach, in 2002 with the Montreal Expos and in 2003 re-united with his old manager from San Francisco, Dusty Baker who had moved to the Chicago Cubs.
Near the end of his career he got booed from some of the Chicago fans after several runners he sent home were thrown out at the plate.
“The most thankless job and the hardest job in baseball is the third base coach,” Baker told Carrie Muscat of MLB.com the next day. “You make four or five great calls and nobody says anything, but you make a couple bad calls and that’s what they remember.”
Baker eventually fired him telling Muscat, “It was very difficult. You have to make tough decisions sometimes.”
Wendell Kim was born March 9, 1950 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Doris and Phil Kim. He was given the name Wendell Kealohepauloe Kim. According to a genealogy site, the Hawaiian meaning of his middle name Kealohepauloe is “never ending love.” He was eventually raised in the Long Beach, Cal. area.
He always had a fighting spirit and came by it honestly—his dad was a boxer. Kim’s father, (shown left in a photo courtesy Box.Rex.com) Korean welterweight Phil “Wildcat” Kim was tough as they come. Wendell Kim was never close to his father and he told the Indianapolis Monthly, “He was a rough man. I never really liked him. You could probably say I hated him.”
When he was very young, his family moved to California in hopes of helping Phil Kim’s boxing career. According to the boxing website the elder Kim “reached his peak in 1952, winning a series of bouts at Hollywood Legion Stadium, where he became a popular draw, due to his exciting style. These victories culminated with a bout with Art Aragon, in which he was stopped in nine rounds, in a sold out fight at Olympic Auditorium.”
He retired from boxing in 1956 after going 43-15 with 3 ties. Of the 43 wins, 31 were knock-outs (KO).
One of the reasons Kim said he hated his father was the way he treated his mother. The father was abusive both to the mother and three children. Kim said that many times he heard things between his parents that no one should hear, and often saw her swollen face or black eye.
The beatings became so bad on his mother that she left the family. There was a night in 1957 that changed Kim’s life. He had been living with his father, brother, and sister all in the same room. He heard his father crying one night and started talking to him in the darkness. The father talked about missing Doris, and then he shocked the little boy by talking about dying –asking his son if he ever felt so low he just wanted to die. “All I have to do is turn off the flame and let the gas go,” he said and that was a turning point in Wendell Kim’s young life.
He realized at seven years old that as tough as his father was, there was a human side to him. His dad had taught him to fight, even punishing him if he lost a childhood tustle, but that night he saw a softer side to him. His father’s rough treatment gave him a tough exterior, but after that Kim was determined to develop a softer side– which he kept through his life.
Doris did end up moving back in with the family but tragedy was about to happen.
One day in 1958 eight-year old Wendell Kim got the news that his father was murdered on the streets. He said he had hidden in the closet many times because of the terrible things he heard in his home and recounted stories to his co-author. He told the Indianapolis Monthly: “At first there was even talk that my mother did it. It was a professional hit, though. Two bullets in the head and four in the chest.”
He told the publication he speculated that his father, who was only 32 years old, was killed for refusing to throw a fight and the murder was never solved.
According to the website BoxRec.com, ”On October 2 1958 Kim was found shot to death in a downtown parking lot in Los Angeles, Cal., a victim of what the police believed to have been narcotics gang warfare.”
“It was awful to hear it happen, but I had also witnessed another murder in my young life,” Kim told his co-writer.
It was a traumatic time for him but he never let it ruin his life. With the encouragement of his mother, he threw away the boxing gloves and started picking up a baseball glove.
He went to Banning High School in Wilmington, California (Los Angelos area) where he excelled in baseball. On the baseball field he felt free and had no thoughts of the horrors of his childhood.
He knew the value of education and he applied himself in school, but he also knew that in high school at that time, it was not “cool” to be seen carrying books home.
“Every year in high school I would ask the teacher for an extra set of books,” he once told his co-author. “I kept one set at home. So when I left school it looked like I didn’t take my books home, but actually I worked very hard on my homework at night.”
His hard work paid off and he ended up playing three years of varsity baseball at Cal Poly Pomona University and even set Bronco career records for runs (93), walks (91) and games (124) while playing under Coach John Scolinos. Kim was selected twice for the All-California Collegiate Athletic Association team.
One day in 1973, without telling his mother, he left the home in Long Beach and traveled to San Francisco for an open try-out with the Giants. He was signed as a free agent and that was the beginning of his professional baseball career. (He is shown, above, with friend Rob Weber stretching at a baseball clinic.)
Though he is small in stature—just 5’4”– he could bench press 320 and leg press 1,000 pounds. Kim used his height as a motivational factor. “When they would tell me I couldn’t do that because I was too short, I would just prove them wrong,” he once said.
He worked very hard all his life, but it wasn’t towards the bad like his father, it was for good. He also instilled those values in his son Donald.
“Ever since I saw my dad cry, I’ve been warm and kind, too. I’ve taught my son the same way,” he told the magazine.
His proudest accomplishment in life was his son Donald (shown left with Tash, as a baby). He talked about Donald often to his co-author.
“Donald, or ‘D. K.,’ did not have the love of sports that his father had,” said Weber, “But that did not affect their relationship. Wendell was very proud of Donald and very happy for him when he married the love of his life, Ali Mueller-Kim. They have since had a son, Will and live near Chandler, Arizona.” (Wendell Kim’s son, wife, and grandson are shown in the photo to the right)
Despite not being big with sports, Donald knew his dad was a popular sports figure and was proud of him.
“ I think D. K.’s greatest respect for his father came from the fact that he knew W. K. would support him in whatever he chose to pursue in life,” said Weber.
Wendell Kim had a devotion to his wife Tash, whom he also spoke about in loving terms to the co-author. He said he knew it was tough on her having to manage everything when he was gone so much of the time, as it is in professional baseball, so he tried to give her a nice home and everything he could to make her happy.
Kim stayed very close to his mother Doris Caserman through the years and credited her for his love of baseball. She worked as a receptionist for many years to raise her children. Throughout his adulthood, until he got sick, he called her at least once a week. At 83, still active, she lives in a two-bedroom condo in the Los Cerritos neighborhood of Long Beach owned jointly with her son, that was built in 1974.
“Doris is a tough lady,” said Weber. “Last I heard, she still tends bar one or two nights a week for a couple of hours at a time, in the Long Beach area.”
In 2005 Wendell Kim retired from baseball to live full-time in Arizona after having an award-winning career. He was voted the 1997 Man of the Year by the Boston Red Sox becoming only the second non-player to receive the award in 33 years.
The Kims had moved into a new house, but any notions of happy retirement soon ended along with his memory, and now at 64 he is a living example of the atrocity of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Knowing his successes with San Francisco, one wonders if some of the symptoms of the disease were beginning to show in his last years in baseball and he did not realize it.
One of the 10 symptoms of Alzheimers according to the website alz.org is trouble judging distances. “For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast,” says the site.
Another symptom is: “People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making.”
According to the Mayo Clinic (MayoClinic.com) “Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses slowly over seven to 10 years. Your cognitive abilities slowly decline. Eventually, the affected areas of your brain don’t work properly, including parts of your brain that control memory, language, judgment and spatial abilities.”
At this writing, Wendell Kim (shown in picture, left, in a more recent picture with a care giver) can no longer walk, speak, or perform any tasks for himself. He lives in a home that specializes in caring for people with his needs. His condition had somewhat stabilized, but recently he has taken a turn for the worse.
“Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for him as the disease has progressed so far,” said Weber.
His family visits him often, but he likely does not remember them.
“The W. K. we knew is no longer there,” said Weber.
“It is a devastating disease for the person, the family and the community of friends to deal with, and the road can be long and bumpy,” said Laurie Phillips, Alzheimer’s Association Walk Manager for the St. Louis Walk to End Alzheimer’s which took place on Sept. 6, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
While there appears to be no hope in the case of Wendell Kim at this advanced stage, those who are involved in the fight to end Alzheimers do have hope.
“This disease is an epidemic in this country, with over 5 million American affected,” said Phillips. “Without a cure, those numbers are expected to reach 16 million by 2050. But we all have to keep the faith. The Alzheimer’s Association is in the fight and working towards a future without Alzheimer’s. Until that future is realized, we are here for the person diagnosed and their family and support community with care and support programs and services.”
Blues forward T.J. Oshie was the Honorary Chairperson for the Walk, and the Blues were involved with some of the activities going on throughout the day on Sept. 6.
We would like to encourage others to get involved with the Walk to End Alzheimers or just to contribute to end Alzheimers. Walk for someone you know who has Alzheimer’s; walk for someone famous you admire who has or had it. We walked to honor our friend, Wendell Kim.
(All photos in this article courtesy Rob Weber. They were given to us for the purpose of this story only, and are copyrighted to Rob Weber.)
—To Make A Donation to the Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease in Memory of Wendell Kim or Someone Else…