Hideki Irabu Found Dead in LA

The former Yankee right-hander was found dead in a Rancho Palos Verdes home of an apparent suicide, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Thursday, Jul 28, 2011  |  Updated 5:20 PM CDT
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In this July 20, 1997, file photo, New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu smiles as he warms up during batting practice before a game.

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Former New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead of an apparent suicide in the wealthy Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes, authorities said Thursday.

The body of Irabu, 42, was found at 4:25 p.m. PDT Wednesday, county sheriff's Sgt. Michael Arriaga said.

"He was found dead by an apparent suicide," he said.

Irabu lived in Rancho Palos Verdes but it was not immediately clear whether it was his home, the sergeant said.

Other details were not immediately released.

Messages left at the county coroner's office were not immediately returned.

Irabu was billed as the Japanese version of Nolan Ryan when he arrived in the United States in 1997. But after an impressive major league debut with the Yankees that summer, he never came close to fulfilling such lofty expectations.

Rather, he always wore the label that late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner stuck on him after Irabu failed to cover first base during an exhibition game: "Fat ... toad."

Irabu finished 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in three seasons with the Yankees, two years in Montreal and a final season in the Texas bullpen in 2002. He was a member of two Yankees teams that won the World Series, but his only postseason action was a single relief appearance in the 1999 AL championship series when Boston tagged him for 13 hits.

The right-hander made a comeback in April 2009 in the independent Golden Baseball League, going 5-3 with a 3.58 ERA for the Long Beach Armada. He then returned to Japan and was introduced that August as a member of the Kochi Fighting Dogs, saying, "I have high expectations for myself."

Irabu had his share of off-the-field trouble in recent years.

In August 2008, he was arrested in Japan for allegedly assaulting a bartender after drinking 20 mugs of beer. Police said he became angered after his credit card was rejected.

In May 2010, Irabu was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena.

Police said he was stopped after his car drifted outside of traffic lanes and he nearly collided with a parked car.

He posted $5,000 bail but it was not immediately clear whether he was criminally charged.

Irabu starred in Japan for nearly a decade before the San Diego Padres purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines. But Irabu declined to join the Padres, insisting he would only play for the Yankees.

The Yankees put together a package and traded for Irabu a few months later and signed him to a four-year, $12.8 million contract.

Irabu tuned up in the minors before making his big league debut at Yankee Stadium on July 10, 1997. The crowd was buzzing even before his first pitch, and fans on two continents watched him. T-shirts with "Typhoon Irabu" were on sale at the concession stands at Yankee Stadium and sushi was sold alongside the hot dogs and beers.

With current Yankees manager Joe Girardi as his catcher that night, Irabu retired the first six Detroit batters, striking out four of them and showing a 96 mph fastball. He fanned nine in 6 2-3 innings and got the win.

When he walked off the mound in the seventh inning, Yankees fans gave him a standing ovation. Some even bowed with both hands over their heads, and Irabu came out of the dugout for a curtain call.

That, however, was perhaps his finest moment in the majors.

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