Koji Uehara retires from professional baseball

StupendousMan

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
1,045
As you can read in boston.com, Koji Uehara has retired from baseball. He started in the Japan Central League in 1999, at age 24, as a starter. In 2009, he moved to the American League, playing out of the bullpen for the Orioles. In 2011, he was moved to the Rangers, where he spent 2012 as well. In 2013, he had one of the best seasons by a reliever that I've ever watched; among the many outstanding statistics was his 0.565 WHIP over 74.1 innings. I also recall that he retired 36 batters in a row at one point, and did not give up a single earned run for over two months. And he did it with two pitches: an ordinary fastball, and an unhittable changeup.

He played with verve and excitement, as the many videos of his high-fives attest. He remains one of my favorite Sox of all time. If you'd like to relive a bit of those happy times from 2013, you might visit an old thread which, I am unaccountably happy to say, I started in the late stages of that season. I'd hazard a guess that the answer to the thread's title question is "yes."

Thanks for all the memories, Koji-san!

p.s. How did I hear about this? I'm working in Japan this summer, and this was the lead story in the sport section of today's "Shinano Daily Shinbun." Koji is remembered well here in Japan, too.
 
Last edited:

SouthernBoSox

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 23, 2005
10,841
Koji's "ordinary" fastball is really more of a myth than reality. While it was thrown at below average speeds (Right at 89 MPH in '13). He had pretty elite vertical rise. Coupled with a release point that was indistinguishable from his bug bunny split he was an incredibly tough at bat. His ability to work up and down in the zone was remarkable.

2013 was probably the best season I've seen from a reliever. He just didn't even throw balls. He'd come in, throw 9 pitches, and it would be over. By far the most relaxing "closer" experience I've ever seen.
 

InstaFace

MDLzera
SoSH Member
Sep 27, 2016
9,911
The jarring thing is seeing Middlebrooks playing 2nd base.

God did I love that stretch run by Koji. Greg Maddux is in the hall of fame with a fastball slower than Koji's, and like Maddux, Koji: (A) could throw it into a thimble (his supreme control hasn't been mentioned yet, or enough), and (B) his secondary pitches had so much deception that he could set you up to sit on that fastball and then make you look stupid.

We don't win that ALCS if Uehara's performance that entire series (5 games, 6 IP, 3 saves, 4 hits, 9 Ks, 0 runs) is anything less than legendary.

Trivia question: in the 2013 ALCS Game 2 (Ortiz's miracle grand slam to tie the game), who on Detroit ultimately took the loss in that game?

 

BaseballJones

goalpost mover
SoSH Member
Oct 1, 2015
6,506
Agree with @SouthernBoSox on how “relaxing” it was watching Koji close out games in 2013.

If I could have my all-time favorite Sox roster, and had to go to a game seven to save humanity, I’d have Pedro throw 8 and Koji close it out. That would be baseball heaven for me.
 

Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Feb 16, 2006
4,007
There
p.s. How did I hear about this? I'm working in Japan this summer, and this was the lead story in the sport section of today's "Shinano Daily Shinbun." Koji is remembered well here in Japan, too.
Thanks for starting the thread. Someone mentioned it in the "Following former Red Sox" thread yesterday but I was meaning to start a devoted thread. It was all over the news yesterday, which was great because I got to see the clip of him K'ing Carpenter to win the WS about 10 times. Let me know if you want to catch a game while here!

I was fortunate enough to see him pitch in last year's Central League playoffs, Giants at Swallows in Jingu. He came in early (5th inning iirc), to audible gasps from the crowd that he was being brought in so early. But with the Giants clinging to a slim lead and Tetsuto Yamada, one of Japan's best hitters coming up, in came Koji. He K'd him with a splitter in the dirt. Classic Koji.

I never knew until chatting with a random guy in my office today that Uehara didn't really grow up playing ball -- he tried it out in high school but wasn't very good so went back to running track, then finally got serious (and realized he could throw 90+) in college. He had a very different baseball beginning to most kids over here - not having to throw hundreds of pitches a day in high school - which may be part of the reason he lasted so long.

During Uehara's final start of his rookie season in 1999, he was asked to IBB (fellow future Red Sox) Roberto Petagine, of the Yakult Swallows at the time, three times. Uehara's Giants teammate Hideki Matsui was neck-and-neck with Petagine for the HR title for the season. Rookie Koji HATED it but did what he was told. After the 3rd intentional walk though he couldn't take it, kicked the dirt in frustration, and shed a few tears. He wanted to compete. After he wiped away the tears, he bore down, got permission to pitch to Petagine in his 4th AB, and finished the CG for his 20th W of the year. It was the first time in 19 years a rookie had won 20 games:


Is "began" really that hard to spell? Some of the people who make these videos really need to go back to grammar school.
Pretty sure it was made by a Japanese fan, not a native speaker of English.
 

Adrian's Dome

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 6, 2010
4,424
I think Koji spoiled us.

He was the guy that made several people bitch about Craig Kimbrel, because he set a precedent in 2013 that was just unheard of. The guy was absolutely unreal that season, and really made it look entirely too effortless and easy.
 

Max Power

thai good. you like shirt?
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
3,690
Boston, MA
Greg Maddux is in the hall of fame with a fastball slower than Koji's
That's part of the Greg Maddux myth. He threw a sinker, cutter, and four seamer, and could get the straight one up there at 95. The ones that moved came in slower. And he could throw any of them exactly where he wanted whenever he wanted.

Tom Glavine got into the Hall of Fame with a fastball that wasn't any harder than Koji's. But I don't think he ever threw a single one in the zone in his entire career.

The difference between how Koji made us feel and how he was feeling was incredible. He'd come in and nobody had a chance, but he said he felt like he was going to throw up every time out there in the playoffs. Good thing he never showed it.
 

InsideTheParker

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
26,120
Pioneer Valley
Agree with @SouthernBoSox on how “relaxing” it was watching Koji close out games in 2013.

If I could have my all-time favorite Sox roster, and had to go to a game seven to save humanity, I’d have Pedro throw 8 and Koji close it out. That would be baseball heaven for me.
I couldn't agree more. The Sox could really use his 2013 self right now.
Alas, the ease he made us feel was not something he could feel himself:
Speaking with Fox reporter Erin Andrews on a podium set up on the infield for the awards presentation, Uehara was asked about the intense pressure he's faced in late-game situations so far this postseason. After Andrews' question was relayed to him through a translated, Uehara smiled and quickly replied. His response drew smiles and laughter from those on the podium and throughout Fenway Park:

"I thought I was going to throw up," Uehara said on the Fox broadcast.

Uehara was on the podium to accept the award for ALCS MVP.
https://www.masslive.com/redsox/2013/10/red_sox_closer_koji_uehara_on.html
(oops, I was searching, copying and pasting while this point was made above.)
 

BornToRun

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 4, 2011
12,489
I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been better stated above. The 2013 Koji experience will be forever be one of my most cherished memories as a Red Sox fan. In a world of closers who stared you down and then blew you away with sheer force, Koji was a goofy 38 year old kid with an 89mph fastball and physics defying splitter who sliced you apart with unrivaled precision and deception. He went from an under the radar free agent signing to one of the most beloved Red Sox players of recent memory. Godspeed, Koji, and thanks for everything.
 

InstaFace

MDLzera
SoSH Member
Sep 27, 2016
9,911
How many relief pitchers win LCS or WS MVP? Looking at the list, I see Mariano Rivera twice, but none others jump out at me. Randy Myers, co-NLCS MVP in 1990, that's the only other one I saw going back that far.
 

Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Feb 16, 2006
4,007
There
Here’s his brief but emotional retirement press conference (in Japanese):


One of the questions was about career highs and lows, for highs he mentioned his two Championships, 2002 and 2013.

Edit: oh and for what might come next, as some folks have speculated that he'd be a great coach -- he said he has nothing to teach professionals, they're already professionals, but that he might like to work with amateur players and help them take the next step.
 

Mueller's Twin Grannies

Member
SoSH Member
Dec 19, 2009
5,221
Dude is a legend. The best closer in Red Sox history.
Eh, I'd go with Foulke or Papelbon but he's right up there. It's a shame the Sox got him so late in his career and didn't get a longer run with him. Would have been awesome to not wonder about the 9th inning for a few years like MFY got to do.

Pretty sure it was made by a Japanese fan, not a native speaker of English.
That actually makes sense given how the dates are displayed.
 

shaggydog2000

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 5, 2007
6,290
I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been better stated above. The 2013 Koji experience will be forever be one of my most cherished memories as a Red Sox fan. In a world of closers who stared you down and then blew you away with sheer force, Koji was a goofy 38 year old kid with an 89mph fastball and physics defying splitter who sliced you apart with unrivaled precision and deception. He went from an under the radar free agent signing to one of the most beloved Red Sox players of recent memory. Godspeed, Koji, and thanks for everything.
When they got him I figured he'd be a decent middle relief option, maybe even a set-up guy if things went right. I was unprepared for the assault of skill and sheer joy he brought. The game is lesser without him in it.
 

BaseballJones

goalpost mover
SoSH Member
Oct 1, 2015
6,506
The Sox' four championship runs, and their respective closers' playoff stats....

2004 Foulke: 11 g, 14.0 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 8 bb, 19 k, 0.64 era, 1.07 whip, 12.2 k/9
2007 Papelbon: 7 g, 10.2 ip, 5 h, 0 r, 0 er, 4 bb, 7 k, 0.00 era, 0.84 whip, 4.6 k/9
2013 Koji: 13 g, 13.2 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 16 k, 0.66 era, 0.51 whip, 10.5 k/9
2018 Kimbrel: 9 g, 10.2 ip, 9 h, 7 r, 7 er, 8 bb, 10 k, 5.91 era, 1.59 whip, 8.4 k/9

As I said in another thread...one of these things is not like the others.
 

Beomoose

Member
SoSH Member
May 28, 2006
17,213
Wherabouts Unknown
Here’s his brief but emotional retirement press conference (in Japanese):


One of the questions was about career highs and lows, for highs he mentioned his two Championships, 2002 and 2013.

Edit: oh and for what might come next, as some folks have speculated that he'd be a great coach -- he said he has nothing to teach professionals, they're already professionals, but that he might like to work with amateur players and help them take the next step.
Dusty in here suddenly.
 

BornToRun

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 4, 2011
12,489
The Sox' four championship runs, and their respective closers' playoff stats....

2004 Foulke: 11 g, 14.0 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 8 bb, 19 k, 0.64 era, 1.07 whip, 12.2 k/9
2007 Papelbon: 7 g, 10.2 ip, 5 h, 0 r, 0 er, 4 bb, 7 k, 0.00 era, 0.84 whip, 4.6 k/9
2013 Koji: 13 g, 13.2 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 16 k, 0.66 era, 0.51 whip, 10.5 k/9
2018 Kimbrel: 9 g, 10.2 ip, 9 h, 7 r, 7 er, 8 bb, 10 k, 5.91 era, 1.59 whip, 8.4 k/9

As I said in another thread...one of these things is not like the others.
Doesn’t matter, got saves!
 

Jim Ed Rice in HOF

Red-headed Skrub child
SoSH Member
Jul 21, 2005
3,861
Seacoast NH
Eck in his Cy/MVP year:
IP 80
ERA+ 195
FIP 1.72
WHIP .913
K/9 10.5
K/W 8.45

Koji in 2013:
IP 74.1
ERA+ 379
FIP 1.61
WHIP .565 – REALLY??!!
K/9 12.2
K/W 11.22
 

Over Guapo Grande

panty merchant
SoSH Member
Nov 29, 2005
1,654
Worcester
The Sox' four championship runs, and their respective closers' playoff stats....

2004 Foulke: 11 g, 14.0 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 8 bb, 19 k, 0.64 era, 1.07 whip, 12.2 k/9
2007 Papelbon: 7 g, 10.2 ip, 5 h, 0 r, 0 er, 4 bb, 7 k, 0.00 era, 0.84 whip, 4.6 k/9
2013 Koji: 13 g, 13.2 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 16 k, 0.66 era, 0.51 whip, 10.5 k/9
2018 Kimbrel: 9 g, 10.2 ip, 9 h, 7 r, 7 er, 8 bb, 10 k, 5.91 era, 1.59 whip, 8.4 k/9

As I said in another thread...one of these things is not like the others.
Yah- look at Pap's paltry K/9.
 

InsideTheParker

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
26,120
Pioneer Valley
Thanks so much, Tokyo Sox, for posting that retirement video. I didn't understand a word, of course, but the emotions come through loud and clear. What a sweetie he seems to be!
And thanks to the others who have been providing the numbers that back up the feeling of ease that he engendered in the Sox fans.
 

joe dokes

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 18, 2005
13,506
When they got him I figured he'd be a decent middle relief option, maybe even a set-up guy if things went right. I was unprepared for the assault of skill and sheer joy he brought. The game is lesser without him in it.
I was at the game in April 2013 where koji got his first high-leverage shot, after Hanrahan walked 2 guys to start the 9th in a 1-1 (Lester v. Price) game v TB. Koji got the next 3 guys on 9 pitches. K and then 2 weak pop ups.
 

Dewey'sCannon

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 18, 2005
644
Maryland
Koji's "ordinary" fastball is really more of a myth than reality. While it was thrown at below average speeds (Right at 89 MPH in '13). He had pretty elite vertical rise. Coupled with a release point that was indistinguishable from his bug bunny split he was an incredibly tough at bat. His ability to work up and down in the zone was remarkable.

2013 was probably the best season I've seen from a reliever. He just didn't even throw balls. He'd come in, throw 9 pitches, and it would be over. By far the most relaxing "closer" experience I've ever seen.
WRT that "pretty elite vertical rise," I seem to remember a lot of discussion about the unique spin on his fastball that helped it resist downward movement like a more typical fastball. This was before there was all the data we have today on spin rates, but I wonder how much data we have, or could construct, on the spin on his fastball - and whether there's any way to teach this to others.

Koji sure was amazing. At the time, I was consistently dumbfounded by how he could just throw these 88 mph fastballs up there and mow pricks down. Having the great splitter certainly helped set up the fastball, but the fastball itself was a work of art.

And as others have noted, his joyful, childlike exuberance also contributed to making him such an utter joy to watch.
 

DJnVa

Dorito Dawg
SoSH Member
Dec 16, 2010
37,955
The Sox' four championship runs, and their respective closers' playoff stats....

2004 Foulke: 11 g, 14.0 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 8 bb, 19 k, 0.64 era, 1.07 whip, 12.2 k/9
2007 Papelbon: 7 g, 10.2 ip, 5 h, 0 r, 0 er, 4 bb, 7 k, 0.00 era, 0.84 whip, 4.6 k/9
2013 Koji: 13 g, 13.2 ip, 7 h, 1 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 16 k, 0.66 era, 0.51 whip, 10.5 k/9
2018 Kimbrel: 9 g, 10.2 ip, 9 h, 7 r, 7 er, 8 bb, 10 k, 5.91 era, 1.59 whip, 8.4 k/9

As I said in another thread...one of these things is not like the others.
Sure, but Kimbrel got himself straight and was pretty good after Game 4 against Houston.
 

BornToRun

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 4, 2011
12,489
I was at the game in April 2013 where koji got his first high-leverage shot, after Hanrahan walked 2 guys to start the 9th in a 1-1 (Lester v. Price) game v TB. Koji got the next 3 guys on 9 pitches. K and then 2 weak pop ups.
And then Shane won it with an infield single.
 

keninten

lurker
Nov 24, 2005
544
Tennessee
What if Hanrahan and Bailey did not get hurt? Even Miller would have been an option but got hurt right after Koji started his run as closer. Hate "what if`s" but adds to his legend.
 

Adrian's Dome

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 6, 2010
4,424
What if Hanrahan and Bailey did not get hurt? Even Miller would have been an option but got hurt right after Koji started his run as closer. Hate "what if`s" but adds to his legend.
Easy to forget they lost Hanrahan, Bailey, and Miller that season because Koji was just that fucking dominant.
 

Wallball Tingle

union soap
SoSH Member
Jul 16, 2005
1,737
Wonderful to watch from both a sports performance perspective and a human being perspective. Hard to believe he was on the mound for a couple of walkoff losses that postseason, ALDS 3 and WS 3 (Workman took the actual L in the latter).
 

Savin Hillbilly

loves the secret sauce
SoSH Member
Jul 10, 2007
18,413
The wrong side of the bridge....
(Base criteria are >50 IP and >80% relief appearances.)

1. Relievers have had a season of >12 K/9 158 times.
2. Relievers have had a season of <1.5 BB/9 132 times.
3. Relievers have had a season of <.200 BABIP 49 times.
5. Relievers have done all three of those things one time. And that one time is Koji Uehara 2013.
 

BigSoxFan

Member
SoSH Member
May 31, 2007
32,629
We got our beloved dog in 2013, he was born in October of that year, so of course we named him Koji. No regrets.
My wife is Japanese and our first son was born in 2014. I wanted to name him Koji but she insisted that it’s a name typically given to the 2nd son (this checks out).

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a 2nd son. I had Koji queued up and ready to go. She changed her mind at the last minute and pushed hard for another name. I relented since that’s a battle I couldn’t win. But it still annoys me a little bit.

Possibly my favorite Red Sox ever. He was basically the anti Kimbrel. When he came in, you immediately felt at ease. No recurring 3-0 counts. You blink and he’d be ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2. Like every single time. So good.
 

jose melendez

Earl of Acie
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Oct 23, 2003
20,065
Washington DC
(Base criteria are >50 IP and >80% relief appearances.)

1. Relievers have had a season of >12 K/9 158 times.
2. Relievers have had a season of <1.5 BB/9 132 times.
3. Relievers have had a season of <.200 BABIP 49 times.
5. Relievers have done all three of those things one time. And that one time is Koji Uehara 2013.
That's awesome.
 
Jul 5, 2018
223

chrisfont9

Member
SoSH Member
My wife is Japanese and our first son was born in 2014. I wanted to name him Koji but she insisted that it’s a name typically given to the 2nd son (this checks out).

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a 2nd son. I had Koji queued up and ready to go. She changed her mind at the last minute and pushed hard for another name. I relented since that’s a battle I couldn’t win. But it still annoys me a little bit.

Possibly my favorite Red Sox ever. He was basically the anti Kimbrel. When he came in, you immediately felt at ease. No recurring 3-0 counts. You blink and he’d be ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2. Like every single time. So good.
Do you know what the kanji mean? Is it "ko" as in "child" like at the end of every girl name?
 

phrenile

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Aug 4, 2005
9,201
Living off Hope
Do you know what the kanji mean? Is it "ko" as in "child" like at the end of every girl name?
No, for starters it's kō (with a long o), not ko (子).

Uehara spells his name 浩治 (wide + reign). Some other common spellings (浩二, 康二 , etc.) have the character for 2 in them, making them suitable for a second son.
 

SirPsychoSquints

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 13, 2005
4,296
Charleston, SC
How many relief pitchers win LCS or WS MVP? Looking at the list, I see Mariano Rivera twice, but none others jump out at me. Randy Myers, co-NLCS MVP in 1990, that's the only other one I saw going back that far.
Dibble was the co-MVP with Myers in 1990

2016 ALCS Andrew Miller
1996 NLCS Wetteland
1988 ALCS Eck
1974 WS Fingers
1959 WS Larry Sherry - started 9 games in the regular season, relieved 14. Relieved 4 games in the WS, allowing 1 run over 12.2 IP, garnering 2 wins and 2 saves.
 

benhogan

Baynes Hogan (pending trade)
SoSH Member
Nov 2, 2007
7,492
Santa Monica
My wife is Japanese and our first son was born in 2014. I wanted to name him Koji but she insisted that it’s a name typically given to the 2nd son (this checks out).

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a 2nd son. I had Koji queued up and ready to go. She changed her mind at the last minute and pushed hard for another name. I relented since that’s a battle I couldn’t win. But it still annoys me a little bit.

Possibly my favorite Red Sox ever. He was basically the anti Kimbrel. When he came in, you immediately felt at ease. No recurring 3-0 counts. You blink and he’d be ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2. Like every single time. So good.
Ha. good story...I had a similar idea, I tried to get "Ortiz" for my kid's name and got vetoed immediately...but that lab we're getting will be named after the greatest Red Sox in my lifetime.

Much love to Koji, one of my top 10 favorite Red Sox ever.
 

Sprowl

mikey lowell of the sandbox
Dope
Jun 27, 2006
31,833
Haiku
Uehara spells his name 浩治 (wide + reign).
He could have been the realization of a Game of Thrones prophecy.

Much love to Koji, one of my top 10 favorite Red Sox ever.
Me too. Koji was modest, unlikely, superbly effective, and altogether lovable. His fastball barely touched 90, but his split-change was untouchable. I agree with prior posts that he compensated effectively for his limited velocity with unusually high spin rates on his fastball. He always seemed to know when the batter would swing on the first pitch (which was always outside the strike zone) and when he would take (in which case the first pitch was right on the outside edge. He really could throw darts right into a thimble.