On Koji Uehara

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Chris Brush

One thing I really like about Baseball are the stories of the players and their good or evil deeds, their relationships with their towns, their teammates, or the umpires. Beyond all the metrics we use there are often interesting stories. In that spirit, I feel compelled to get this off my chest.

Nearing the end of his tenure, Oriole GM Andy McPhail, author of many good trades in his time here, had completed a deal with the Texas Rangers in which Orioles bullpen specialist Koji Uehara would be dealt in exchange for Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis who had flashes of power in the minors, but with a Rangers team that was stocked with big bats, Davis had little chance of getting consistent playing time with the Rangers on their way to a second consecutive World Series appearance.

Like the George Sherrill trade, and the Bedard trade before that, Andy McPhail had moved one his bright stars in an effort Improve at some other positions and gain a better chance of winning some damn ballgames. Tough love from McPhail, who has received more than his fair share of criticism around here.

Hard to criticize him now with so many stars all over the field for the Orioles. Those moves are paying big dividends.

Koji showed early signs of promise here.  But he also demonstrated an abnormal fragility for a big leaguer. It looked like he was going to have issues dealing with the Baltimore humidity. He also appeared to have some nagging health problems.  But there was no doubting his talent. There was debate over what his role on the team should be. Some said he should close, some said short relief.

Baltimore baseball fans had come to admire the Japanese born hurler who had chose this town  and this team. It is not often players from Japan or Korea come to America to play specifically for the Orioles. It was easy to feel an emotional connection with him because he made us feel a little special.

From the other side of the world, and battling a significant language barrier,  his youthful, somewhat callow appearance and humbleness appealed to us in a way that was a different from the typical corn-fed American prospects, long on swagger, and too often short on production. 

Koji’s gratitude for the chance to play in America for a big league team was genuine. You got the feeling that when Koji spoke about his commitment to the Oriole organization and desire to win here in Baltimore, that it came from the heart.

Upon learning Uehara had been traded to Texas I felt as I did the day my daughter climbed on the big yellow school bus for that first day of school. Well, not exactly but you get the picture. Our Koji was stepping out of the nest to find his way in the big world. Bittersweet.

Uehara gave this statement at the press conference just before leaving town:

“'There are two contradicting feelings. Part of me says that a contending team wants me, and that's gratifying, at the same time….Baltimore…..I've been here for two years. It's really sad.' When asked which players he would miss most, he simply responded, Everybody.'” He later teared up.  (The Baltimore Sun 08/01/2011)

Something happened to Koji in Texas, he seemed to harden a little. Reunited with his high school chum Yoshinori Tateyama who was also with the Rangers at the time.  Tateyama was also a teammate of Yu Darvish with the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japan league. Perhaps the familiarity leant Koji a bit of confidence and helped him feel a bit more at home.

He became a free agent at the end of 2012 and has completed his metamorphosis by returning to the AL East an accomplished and respected big league closer. Sporting an impressive streak of 37 batters retired consecutively. He has been bolstering the Red Sox bullpen and he has provided an additional story line for the Boston resurgence in 2013. Uehara, in 68.2 innings this year has a paltry ERA of just 1.18.

Koji likes the Uniform number 19. Here are some other Orioles 19’s:

·         Dave McNally. Dominating pitcher on the great Oriole teams of the 1960’s. Won 2 World Series in 1966 and 1970.

·         Larry Sheets hit a triple Mike Devereaux’s  “foul homerun”  game. I was there.

·         Ben McDonald, Scott Erickson.

·         Chris Davis who set the team record for home runs with his 51st last night off the Red Sox Ryan Dempster.

As much as I dislike, malign, make fun of,  and revel in the misery of the Boston Red Sox. I will never be able to have the same disdain for Koji Uehara. He is only under their control through the end of 2013. There is a very good chance that he will be a significant factor in the post season this year and will surely be a contributor with whatever team he signs with for 2014.

His glove is already Orange. Maybe he’ll sign with the Giants. Or someone else who wears Orange.

Follow me @coachChris1969

next up:

VIDEO: Chris Davis Breaks Orioles Record With 51st Home Run

September 18, 2013

Move over, Brady. With his 51st home run, Chris Davis now holds the record for most home runs in a single-season for the Orioles. Davis crushed one into centerfield at Fenway to tie the game at 2.

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