I’ve been an Orioles fan for about 20 years now – that was completely Mrs. Shlabotnik’s influence, in case you were wondering – and my own personal “All-Time Favorite Orioles Team” would probably be different than most people’s All-O’s team. Sure, Cal is in there, but instead of Brooks, Jim Palmer or Boog Powell, my team would have guys like B.J. Surhoff, Buddy Groom and Koji Uehara.
Koji’s first season as a starting pitcher with the Birds was a little rough, but he found his success in the bullpen. Over his 7 MLB seasons he has 86 saves, a 2.67 ERA, a 0.852 WHIP and an All-Star nod to show for it.
…But before that, he spent 10 years pitching for the Yomiuri Giants, racking up a number of very impressive accomplishments in NPB. During the COMC Black Friday promotion (yes, that again), I was happy to land a few Koji cards from his time in Japan.
…Starting with this 1999 Calbee Gold Signature parallel. I don’t really care about the parallel aspect of it, this is just what was available in my price range… but it is pretty neat.
Koji had a phenomenal rookie season in 1999; He went 20-4, lead the Central League with a 2.09 ERA and 179 strikeouts, had nearly 7.5 K’s for every walk, was an All-Star, won the gold Glove as well as the Sawamura Award, which is given to the top starting pitcher in both leagues… And, of course, he was the Central League Rookie Of The Year.
This next card is from the 2000 BBM Diamond Heroes set. Koji suffered from the Sophomore Jinx in 2000, and it was the only year he was not named to the All-Star team. It’s not apparent from the scan, but this is a shiny card (and looks better in person).
Here’s the back of the Diamond Heroes card…
The third card is a 2001 Calbee card.
2001 was a better year for Koji, but still not as good as his rookie year. Here’s the back of that card.
I don’t read or speak Japanese, but from the linescore at the bottom I’m thinking that this card indicates that the Giants kicked the Hanshin Tigers’ collective butts 17-3 on Opening Day in 2001. The stat line shows that Koji started 20 games, went 9-7 with 126 K’s and a 3.57 ERA. I have no idea what the 0 represents, maybe saves?
This final card is from the 2002 BBM All Stars set. In 2002 Koji went 17-5 with a 2.60 ERA and won his second Sawamura Award.
I’m out of Koji cards (for now), but to give a quick overview of the rest of his NPB career, he lead the league in complete games and strikeouts in 2003, was converted to being a closer in 2007 and made the jump to MLB for the 2009 season.
I’ve got a few more Japanese cards to share on another day, but for now I might have to start thinking about that “All-Shlabotnik Orioles Team”…. Hmmmmm…..