Seung-hwan Oh was a pitcher from an early age, but during his high school career he tried playing outfield, due to elbow issues. Upon entering university, Oh needed Tommy John surgery in 2001, and missed the better part of two seasons before returning to form. He was drafted by the Samsung Lions and joined them upon graduating in 2005.
In his rookie season, he won Rookie of the Year, becoming the first player in KBO history to record 10 wins, 10 saves and 10 holds in one season. He also got 3 saves in the final series of the playoffs, winning series MVP. In 2006, he was named to the national team for the World Baseball Classic. He also started piling up impressive career save totals, reaching the 100 plateau in the fewest games ever. He put up 30+ saves in three straight seasons (2006-08), and was even part of the Korean Olympic baseball team in Beijing (2008) but did not make any mound appearances in tournament play. In 2009, he was once again named to Korea’s WBC team, but not as its closer. His poor finish to the 2008 season led to a slump that continued until injury slowed him completely down in 2010.
Oh made his big comeback in 2011, leading the KBO in saves once again, and earning his second career Korean Series MVP (3 saves and appearances in all 4 wins). Then in the Asia Series, against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, he closed out the final game to give Samsung its first title. Then in 2012, he set the KBO record for career saves, reaching 228 on July 1. Once again, Samsung won the Korean Series. Oh joined the Korean national team in the WBC for the third straight time, picking up one save (though the team lost in the second round). Yet again, Samsung took the Korean Series, making it three straight.
On November 22, 2013, the Hanshin Tigers announced the signing of Seung-hwan Oh. He became the first Korean player in team history, and earned a salary of 99 million yen. He went to work immediately in 2014, earning his first save in his first mound appearance on March 29. He then collected his first win on April 10, and went 12 straight appearances after that without surrendering a run (including 10 straight without giving up a hit). Oh reached the incredible 300 career save milestone (277 KBO, 23 NPB) on July 21. Despite slumping during interleague play, Oh would end his first season in Japan with a league-high 39 saves, and won Climax Series MVP after appearing in all 6 games (only giving up runs in the final game against Yomiuri, when it was already well in hand). Unfortunately, he was the victim of a Game 4 walk off home run to Akira Nakamura of the SoftBank Hawks in the Nippon Series. Hanshin would lose the series the next game.
The 2015 season started off reasonably well for Oh. He collected 9 quick saves in the team’s first month, and in doing so, became the club’s all-time saves leader among imports with 48, surpassing Jeff Williams. A health scare in late May made it look as though the club would need to deactivate him, however, just 4 days later he took the mound against the Rakuten Eagles, recording his first win of the year. Less than a week later, though, he took a 3-2 lead into the ninth, got two outs, and then loaded the bases for a fatal grand slam home run. Once again, interleague play brought out Oh’s shaky side. Still, he was selected to the NPB All-Star Game by Central League managers, and appeared in Game 2. In the second half, Oh reached the 30-save plateau on July 31, and got to 350 career saves (KBO + NPB) on August 12. Without Oh’s clutch play, Hanshin would not have found itself in the pennant race. The team held on to first place until September 12, just a few days before Oh got his 40th save of the season. He would record one more, which tied him for most saves in a single NPB season by an import player. However, late in the month, discomfort in his right adductor muscle put an early end to his season. He was unable to take part in the postseason, and Hanshin bowed out in the first round, losing two of three to the Yomiuri Giants.
Oh, who had planned on using NPB as a stepping stone to the majors, had a decision to make in the 2015 offseason. Hanshin pursued a contract extension, but MLB clubs also showed an interest in his services. The decision was made for him, though, as Oh was alleged in December to have been involved in overseas gambling the previous offseason. (It is illegal for Korean citizens to take part in gambling overseas, regardless of its legality in the country in question.) With his trial and fate undetermined (and presumably set to be drawn out), Hanshin pulled the plug on its offers. In the end (December 30), Oh was not convicted or jailed, but got off with a fine. Still, he was left without a baseball home, and would likely not be signed on by any Korean or Japanese team after the scandal.
On January 11, 2016, Oh signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a two year deal with a club option on the third season. He made his debut on April 3, but would remain in a set-up role until the club gave him a shot when then-closer Trevor Rosenthal struggled through the season’s first half. Oh did well, earning 19 saves (to go along with 4 blown saves) and a 1.92 ERA in his first season in America. He became the second player in history to record at least one save in KBO, NPB and MLB. Shingo Takatsu was the first.
Oh joined the Korean WBC team for the fourth time, pitching 3 1/3 innings of shutout ball and getting Korea’s lone win, as the club bowed out in the first round of tournament action.
Unfortunately, Oh had a rough time in 2017, losing the closer’s seat to Rosenthal and eventually Tyler Lyons. He is currently unsigned by any major league team for the 2018 season.
Oh Signs with MLB St. Louis Cards (January 11, 2016)
Oh’s Gambling Scandal Unfolds (December 10, 2015)
Oh to be Investigated on Illegal Gambling Allegations (December 7, 2015)
A Modest Proposal… (July 4, 2015)
News, Rumors and More… (June 16, 2015)
Sponichi Interview: Yano talks with Oh (February 21, 2015)
Foreigners Report to Japan for 2015 (January 29, 2015)
Seung-Hwan Oh Signs on for 2015 (December 21, 2014)
Seung-Hwan Oh reaches 300 career saves (July 21, 2014)