July 28, 2011
Former New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead of an apparent suicide in his suburban Los Angeles home on Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles County sheriff's office. He was 42.
The big right-hander was a star pitcher in Japan for nine seasons before his contract was sold to the San Diego Padres in 1997. Irabu, however, refused to play for the Padres and his rights were traded to the Yankees, the only American team that Irabu said he would join.
Irabu's time in the Bronx was famously defined more by tabloid headlines than actual results on the field. Despite pitching on three playoff teams (and two World Series winners), Irabu made only one appearance in the playoffs, giving up seven runs in a long-relief effort during an ALCS Game 3 blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox. He famously sparred with late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who called him a "fat... toad" to reporters after one spring training game.
Jack Curry of YES Network remembers that day:
It's impossible to chronicle Irabu's career without detailing an incident from what should have been a harmless exhibition game in 1999. When Irabu failed to cover first for the second straight game, it infuriated Steinbrenner and unleashed an awkward series of events around a team waiting to leave Tampa and fly to San Diego to two exhibition games.
A few minutes after Irabu's mistake, Steinbrenner criticized the 253-pound pitcher.
"He looked like a fat, **** (rhymes with fussy) toad out there, not covering first base," Steinbrenner said. "I don't know what you got to do. That's not a Yankee."
Irabu, who was typically bland in interviews, raised his voice that day and said that he couldn't understand why he was being questioned for not having "any guts" or "any fight." He lamented that he was being judged "on a play-by-play basis rather than my overall play."
After three seasons with the Yankees, Irabu was traded to the Montreal Expos and later pitched for the Texas Rangers. He finished his U.S. career with a 34-35 record and 5.15 ERA and returned to Japan to pitch for the Hanshin Tigers.
Irabu's post-baseball career contained a couple of troubled headlines. In 2008, he was involved in a barroom altercation after his credit card was declined. In 2010, he was pulled over in Gardena, Calif., on a suspected DUI.
TMZ reports Irabu's body was found by a friend at the pitcher's home in Palos Verdes.
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