Former Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara announces retirement

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10: Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10: Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Koji Uehara announces baseball retirement at the age of 44. He was a Red Sox player for 4 years and was an invaluable member of the 2013 World Series.

Jim Allen of the Kyodo News dropped the news on Sunday that former Boston Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara would be announcing his retirement. Uehara stopped playing in MLB in 2017 when he went back to playing in Japan.

Uehara spent four of his nine MLB seasons with the Red Sox from 2013-2016. Throughout his time with the Sox, he had a 2.19 ERA, 291 strikeouts, and a 0.810 WHIP in 230 games. He ends his career being an All-Star, ALCS MVP, 2013 World Series champion and was among the 10 oldest players in MLB during four of his seasons.

He’s been part of the Japan League and he’s been a player in the Olympics. What hasn’t he done?

2013 was truly a magical season for Uehara. The Red Sox won the World Series, he finished 7th in the AL for Games Pitched, 4th for Situational Wins Saved, he was in the talks of being the AL Cy Young award winner and MVP. As WEEI’s Rob Bradford noted,

"“Through the run Uehara — the guy the Red Sox signed for $2 million to be an extra part in the 2013 bullpen — was perhaps the best closer in baseball. In those 193 games, Uehara offered a presence that was almost unimaginable. Over 192 2/3 innings, he struck out 244 and walked … 24. His batting average against in those three seasons was .174 with an ERA of 1.78.”"

Remembering Uehara’s stuff as a pitcher is truly a magical journey. Uehara typically threw around 88-mph, consistently throwing strikes, while keeping his walk ratio low. He had a killer 81-mph splitter and a uniquely nasty 90-mph fastball.

In April 2014, he made history for not allowing any walks from August 3, 2013 to April 20, 2014 . In the span of 36 games, he played 44 1/3 innings without giving up a walk.

Uehara’s pitching was quite unusual at a time when pitchers were starting to throw much, much harder. When you think about a pitcher who constantly is throwing strikes, one naturally thinks of a pitcher throwing at least 95-mph. How was he able to accumulate so many strikes with a 90-mph fastball? He allowed the confident attacking approach of hitters to be their own downfall as he buried them while nibbling the plate.

Where did his drive come from? Uehara wore number 19 as a tribute to the place he was at when he was 19 years old. Can you remember where you were at 19? It is an age of self-discovery, of feeling lost, of big dreams seemingly getting further and further away from our reach. When Uehara was 19 years old, he wasn’t playing baseball or in school. Instead, he was working a security job. He had dreams of becoming a teacher. He always liked playing sports, so being a physical education teacher seemed right to him. He used the memory of this period in his life as his motivating factor.

His dreams seemed out of reach, but he continued to work towards them (one step forward, two steps back). His success can be attributed to the fact that he never stopped grinding, never stopped pushing himself. His experience forced him to develop a remarkable work ethic. His hard work paid off. As Uehara noted in a press conference with the Chicago Cubs,

"“The pure joy that I feel when I play baseball, that I feel towards baseball, that passion drives me. The fact that I feel that any day my baseball career might end, the focus that I bring to baseball just comes out that way.”"

Manager John Farrell liked him for his adaptation ability to be used for 8-11 pitch innings, the good shape that he kept himself in, and his overall work ethic. With the uniqueness to his pitching style, he an upper hand on most relief pitchers. He could stay in the game for a longer period or be used more frequently than most.

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Uehara had experience playing in Japan and with Olympic teams before making the move to MLB. I think what really drew managers to him was his work ethic. By the time he played with Boston, he had racked up the experience. Having been in high-stress situations, he was more adapted to dealing with pressure-filled moments.

In speaking about his wide array of experience, things could have shaped up very differently for Uehara. He had the opportunity to play in the U.S. after college with the Angels but turned down the offer. What would have happened if he came to the States to begin his career? He made the decision to stay in Japan because of his uncertainty about achieving success in the States. According to Uehara,

"“I feel that if I did come over, I’d get hurt and my career would have been over. The difference between the mound in Japan, the firmness, the language barrier, the ball, the difference, I probably would have had a lot of difficulty adapting.”"

Ultimately, no amount of speculation could ever help us to know what would have happened. As Red Sox fans we were lucky to experience his immense talent for four seasons. It’s remarkable that he’s been able to play for as long as he has. He joins other players like Ichiro Suzuki, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, LaTroy Hawkins and others in being active pitchers while in their 40s.

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Uehara was a fan favorite during his time in Boston who was always smiling, and always riling up his teammates.