Hideki Irabu, who pitched in both his native Japan and in MLB, has been found dead in his Los Angeles home of an apparent suicide. He was 42.
After spending nine seasons as a strikeout sensation for the Lotte Orions, Irabu’s contract was sold to the San Diego Padres in 1997. However, Irabu was only interested in pitching in Yankee pinstripes. The Padres subsequently traded Irabu to the New York Yankees amidst much fanfare. In his MLB debut on July 10, 1997, Irabu struck out nine Detroit Tigers over six and two-thirds innings. He left the mound with a rousing standing ovation and received a curtain call. It was his first and last.
Despite being part of two World Series winning teams in 1998 and 1999, Irabu didn’t live up to expectations and quickly fell out of favor with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who referred to him as “a fat toad” during spring training in 1999.
Irabu’s fortunes did not improve after he was traded to the Montreal Expos prior to the 2000 season. The Texas Rangers experimented with Irabu as a closer in 2002 but he would be released by mid-season and would never again pitch in the majors. Irabu returned to Japan in 2003 and helped the Hanshin Tigers win the Central League pennant. He would make a brief comeback in the minor leagues in 2009.
Unfortunately, Irabu had a problem with alcohol. In August 2008, he assaulted a bartender in Tokyo after consuming 20 mugs of beer. Irabu became enraged when the bar rejected his credit card. In May 2010, Irabu was arrested in California for DUI. Whether alcohol played a role in Irabu’s death remains to be seen.