Koji Uehara called it a career during an emotional press conference in Tokyo, Japan. Uehara’s career is arguably one of the most successful and decorated in history, in which he helped his teams claim the Japan Series, the World Series, the World Baseball Classic and an Olympic bronze medal. He is one of 16 players who won both the World Series and the World Baseball Classic.
Regarding his retirement, as reported by the Japan Times, Uehara explained: “I was unable to play well at the farm team”.
Born in April 1975, Uehara was in his second stint in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) with the Yomiuri Giants, the team that had signed him as their first draft pick back in 1999.
After going 0-5 in 36 games during the 2018 season, the former All-Star was demoted to the Minor Leagues.
Uehara graduated from the Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences in 1998 and turned down a US $ 3 million offer by the then-Anaheim Angels.
He made his NPB debut on 29 March 1999 and went on to win 20 games, 15 in a row. He earned Rookie of the Year honours and received the Eiji Sawamura Award as the top starting pitchers.
He was a starting pitcher for the team that won the NPB’s 2002 Japan Series.
The Yomiuri Giants had converted him into a reliever in 2007 and he had rewarded them with 32 saves.
Uehara moved to Major League Baseball (MLB) after the 2008 season and made his debut for the Baltimore Orioles on 8 April 2009, and was used as a set-up man.
He won back the closer’s job as he moved to the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and his wicked split-finger fastball became one of the keys to Boston’s World Series campaign. Uehara was named the American League Championship Series MVP and pitched in five World Series games and never allowed a run.
As Boston Globe’s Nora Pinciotti puts it, Uehara was “well-liked and a bit eccentric, the type of personality that leaves those who have spent time around with him with plenty of stories to tell”.
One of these stories comes from Dana LeVangie, today’s Red Sox pitching coach and then the bullpen coach.
Before he entered a World Series game Uehara felt a little sleepy. So he went to LeVangie with a request: “He asked me to slap him in the face,” LeVangie told the Globe.
Uehara started three games for Japan during the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He limited the USA to one run over 5 innings and left with a no-decision in the second round and came back to shut out Korea over seven, masterful innings in the semifinal.
He also represented Japan in two Olympics: 2004 in Athens, Samurai Japan claimed a bronze medal, and 2008 in Beijing.