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Ex-Yankee Hideki Irabu, 42, Found Dead In Home

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Hideki Irabu Death Ruled Suicide By Hanging, According To Coroner

Hideki Irabu was found dead in his home on Thursday, by a friend visiting the former New York Yankee in the Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes. It was a sad end to what had been a troubled time in America for the Japanese pitcher.

Irabu was remembered by the Yankees at their game on Friday night, according to the Associated Press, as further details became public knowledge regarding the pioneer’s last moments.

Los Angeles County Assistant Coroner Chief Ed Winter told The Associated Press in an email Friday that the 42-year-old Irabu died by hanging himself, and the mode was suicide. He said Irabu did not leave a note.

Two of the men who caught Irabu with the Yankees spoke to the Associated Press regarding Irabu’s short-lived career.

Current Yankee Jorge Posada seemed shaken by the news:

"It’s really devastating. I got to know him real well," longtime Yankees star Jorge Posada said. "A guy that came out here with a lot riding on his shoulders, but he did a hell of a job for us. Tough times."

Manager Joe Girardi, who caught Irabu’s MLB debut, enjoyed the presence of the Japanese pitcher:

"I thought he was a good teammate. He was enjoyable to be around, pitched a lot of good games for us," Girardi said. "He’s going to be missed."

According to the AP, an autopsy was performed Friday, but it will take six to eight weeks for the results of toxicology tests to shed further light on the circumstances of Irabu’s death.


Hideki Irabu Death: Japanese Righthander Was Pioneer, But Had Troubled Life

When Japanese righthander Hideki Irabu first came to pitch in the USA, he was widely considered the best pitcher in Japan. But the deal that originally sent him from the Chiba Lotte Marines, his Japanese team, to the San Diego Padres set the wheels in motion for the modern posting system, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Set on playing for the Yankees, Mr. Irabu refused to go to San Diego.

Robert Whiting, author of several books about Japanese baseball, wrote in his 2004 book about Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, “The Meaning of Ichiro,” that Mr. Irabu compared the San Diego deal to the “slave trade” and said he was being treated like a piece of meat. San Diego caved and traded Mr. Irabu to the Yankees in 1997.

“He will go down in history for fighting for players’ rights in Japan, by refusing to accept the Lotte trade to San Diego. Because of him and [Alfonso] Soriano, the posting system was born,” said Mr. Whiting in an e-mail.

But Irabu, after a sensational debut, had a rough career in MLB; his failure to cover first base during a spring training game in 1999 got Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to call him a “fat toad”; he was eventually traded to the Montreal Expos and wound up his MLB career as a reliever for the Texas Rangers.

He last pitched for the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden League in 2009 and was living in southern California, where his personal life became troubled:

Mary Feuerlicht said she was about to go pick up her son on Wednesday morning when a man came running down the driveway from Irabu’s large two-story home, perched atop a hill with views of the harbor and downtown Los Angeles, pleading with her to call police.

Feuerlicht said she was later told by sheriff’s deputies and the man who asked her for help that Irabu’s wife had left him, taking their two young daughters. She hadn’t seen Irabu’s wife and children for two months, but said the family regularly left town for the summer.

“When I saw him for the past month or so he seemed kind of down,” she said. “He wasn’t kind of perky like I’ve seen him before.”

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office is investigating Irabu’s death as a suicide and will perform an autopsy Friday or Saturday.


Hideki Irabu Dies, Baseball Fans And Writers React

Even though we have some of the best baseball minds anywhere right here, it's certainly worth paying attention to what other writers have said about the shocking suicide of Hideki Irabu. The former Yankees pitcher was 42.

ESPN New York's Rob Parker remembers Hideki Irabu's MLB debut:

For me, it was like seeing Allen Iverson play in person for the first time at the Garden. I wanted to see that quickness everybody in the NBA was talking about. And I was amazed.


I can remember the crowd going wild after every punch out. It was a magical night in the Big Ball Orchard in the South Bronx.    

Mac Engel of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram calls Irabu's suicide "a total bummer":

...apparently, according to his teammates, he had some serious bad gas.


I was so sure the interpreter was not giving me the straight answers that I took the recording to a Japanese professor at TCU. She said he used a lot of slang, but that the interpreter had pretty much said what Irabu said. He was just, boring.

SB Nation's Yankees' blog, Pinstripe Alley, has a comment thread up on Irabu's death, the highlight of which is commenter Chris Child's Fist anecdote:

My dad told me a story when he was pitching one of his first games in AAA that a Yankee was beaned (clearly unintentionally too) and Irabu, who barely could speak English and hardly knew his teammates, went to the coach and asked if he should throw at the opposition. Right then and there I loved the guy.    

Buster Olney tweeted the prophetic tale of a melancholy Irabu:

Really sad news about Hideki Irabu. He always seemed terribly sad in the two years I covered him; he had a lot of troubled times. RIP.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply


Commenter "genuinejake" at MSNBC offered a somber assessment that we should all take into consideration next time we mock Kazuo Matsui:

I hope this causes professional sports to focus more on the physical and psychological strain of foreign superstars moving into the US market - especially in baseball.    


Report: Ex-Yankee Hideki Irabu, 42, Found Dead In Home

Thursday, it's been reported that former Yankees, Expos, and Rangers pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead in his home near Los Angeles, with suicide by hanging the apparent cause of death.

Irabu, born in Japan, starred there for nine seasons. Bobby Valentine, who managed Irabu in Japan, recently told, "The biggest disappointment that I saw or had was Hideki Irabu, who I had in 1995 when he was absolutely, other than Nolan Ryan, the best thrower I had ever seen. On days, he was the best pitcher I had ever seen in my life. For him to be such an also-ran and a bust here was very surprising."

In 1997, the San Diego Padres purchased Irabu from the Chiba Lotte Marines, but Irabu refused to sign with the Padres. A deal was worked out in April, but it wasn't until May that Irabu officially joined the New York Yankees, who sent players and $3 million to San Diego, and agreed to pay Irabu $12.8 million over four seasons. He spent some of that summer in the minors, and finished with a 7.09 ERA in 13 appearances (including nine starts) with the Yankees. Hardly an auspicious beginning.

Irabu did pitch well in 1998 -- 13 wins and a 4.06 ERA-- and was an important contributor on a Yankees roster that won 114 regular-season games on the way to a four-game sweep of the Padres in the World Series. Notably, though, Irabu didn't pitch a single postseason inning for the Yankees that fall.

The Yankees' dissatisfaction with Irabu -- who'd been acquired largely at the best of owner George Steinbrenner -- nearly came to a head in spring training the next year. From pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre's memoir:

Part of Irabu's problem was that he didn't work very hard at staying in shape, and by 1999 he was beginning to wear out his welcome with us. In spring training he had failed to cover first base a couple of times on ground balls to the right side, and we started to lean on him pretty hard. All pitchers do drills in spring training covering first base, but we brought Irabu out on the back field for some extra sessions, making him repeat those drills by himself.

Nevertheless, in the Yankees' last spring training game, he was late covering first base. Steinbrenner called an impromptu press conference and called Irabu "a fat pussy toad." Irabu responded by claiming that he wasn't prepared to start the third game of the regular season, as scheduled. Eventually everyone kissed and made up, but Irabu will forever be remembered for that incident, and Steinbrenner's label.*

* Granted, the word "pussy" is now usually omitted. But it wasn't a vile word because Steinbrenner was referring not to the female anatomy, but rather to the milky discharge from wounds; it rhymed with "fussy."

Irabu won another 11 games for the Yankees in '99, but pitched just once in the postseason, getting hammered in relief of Roger Clemens in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.

Less than a month after winning another World Series, the Yankees traded Irabu to the Montreal Expos for (ultimately) Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly and Christian Parker.

Irabu pitched sparingly and ineffectively with Montreal, drawing his release in early September, 2001. He came back in 2002 as a reliever with the Rangers and recorded 16 saves, but posted a 5.74 ERA in the process.

According to Stottlemyre, "Irabu had pretty good stuff but he never made the adjustment to pitching against a better caliber of hitter in the major leagues, and it always seemed to shock him whenever someone would hit one of his split-finger fastballs out of the park

And a lot of them got hit out of the park. Irabu pitched in a homer-happy era, but among all pitchers with at least 500 innings, Irabu's 1.6 home runs allowed per nine innings ranks sixth in major-league history.

Irabu returned to Japan in 2003 and pitched well that season, going 13-8 with the Hanshin Tigers. But he wouldn't win another game there (or elsewhere), and afterward things didn't go particularly well for Irabu. In 2008, he was arrested in Osaka for allegedly assaulting a bartender (supposedly after consuming 20 glasses of beer). In 2010, Irabu was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Southern California, where he's lived for some years.

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