Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yankee Pitcher Suicide: Hideki Irabu

Former New York Yankees right-handed pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead of an apparent suicide in the wealthy Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes, authorities said. The body of Irabu, 42, was found at 4:25 p.m. PDT Wednesday, July 27, 2011, county sheriff's Sgt. Michael Arriaga said. "He was found dead by an apparent suicide," Arriaga said.

TMZ reported that he died by suicide by hanging himself. Irabu lived in LA with his wife and two children, where he had investments in various Japanese restaurants.

Baseball player suicides are not as rare as one assumes, and my study of them in the mid-1980s predicted a wave of self-deaths in 1989. Half of the suicide victims were pitchers, and all of those during the 20th century were right-handed.

Hideki Irabu (Japanese: 伊良部 秀輝) (May 15, 1969 – July 27, 2011) was a professional baseball player of Okinawan and American mixed ancestry. He played professionally in both Japan and the United States. Irabu's biological father is American, according to the father who raised Hideki, Ichiro Irabu. Ichiro also indicated that his wife, Kazue, is Hideki Irabu's biological mother. Hideki Irabu grew up in Amagasaki, Hyōgo Prefecture.

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 pitched for the Lotte Orions, who later became the Chiba Lotte Marines, of the Pacific League from 1988 to 1996. He was known as a high-speed pitcher and in 1993, he threw a 158 km/h (98 mph) fastball against Kazuhiro Kiyohara of the Seibu Lions. This was the fastest clocked pitch in all of Japanese Professional Baseball (NPB) until 2005, when the record was broken by Marc Kroon of the Yokohama BayStars. It remains the Pacific League record.

Irabu led the Pacific League in wins in 1994 (27 games, 207 1⁄3 innings, 15 wins, 10 losses, 239 strikeouts, ERA 3.04), and in ERA in 1995 and 1996 (1995 - 28, 203, 11-11-0, 239, 2.53; 1996 - 18, 157 1/3, 12-6-0, 167, 2.40). In these successive years, Irabu monopolized the title of greatest strikeout pitcher in his league.

In 1997, the San Diego Padres purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines. This signing is especially notable because it led to the creation of the posting system currently used by Japanese and MLB teams. Irabu, however, refused to sign with the Padres, saying he would only play with the Yankees. For the negotiating rights to Irabu, the Yankees offered the Padres a choice of one from a list of players including Brian Boehringer, David Weathers, Chris Cumberland, Andy Fox, and Matt Luke. The Padres would eventually include him as a player-to-be-named-later in a trade that involved Homer Bush and Irabu traveling to the New York Yankees in exchange for Rafael Medina, Ruben Rivera, and $3 million in cash. The Yankees signed him to a $12.8 million, four-year contract, and after only eight minor league games, the Yankees put him in their rotation. He played with the Yankees from 1997 through 1999, winning two World Series rings (1998, 1999) despite only pitching in one postseason game and having no postseason decisions (coincidentally, the 1998 win was against the Padres). 

George Steinbrenner publicly expressed disgust at his weight, at one point calling him a "fat pussy toad" after he failed to cover first base on a ground ball during a spring training game. Steinbrenner refused to let Irabu accompany the team to Los Angeles, but two days later, Steinbrenner apologized and allowed Irabu to join the team. Steinbrenner's own dissatisfaction with Irabu was parodied in the final episode of Seinfeld; with the fictionalised Steinbrenner on the witness stand, George Costanza's father stands up in the court gallery, and tries to impeach Steinbrenner's credibility by asking him "How could you spend $12 million on Hideki Irabu?"

1998 was Irabu's best season in MLB, featuring career bests in games started (28), complete games (2), innings pitched (173), wins (13), and ERA (4.06).

After the 1999 season, he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Ted Lilly, Christian Parker, and Jake Westbrook. He started only 14 games for the Expos in 2000 and 2001, pitching 71⅓ innings with a 6.69 ERA and only 2 wins against 7 losses. 

In 2002, Irabu signed as a free agent to pitch for the Texas Rangers as a closer. At the end of the year, Irabu moved back to Japan to pitch in the Hanshin Tigers' starting rotation for the 2003 season, helping the team win the Central League pennant for the first time since 1985. When Major League Baseball opened its 2004 season in Tokyo, he pitched against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Over the course of six MLB seasons, Irabu's career totals are 126 games, 514 innings, 34 wins, 35 losses, 16 saves, 405 strikeouts, and a 5.15 ERA. His Japanese totals for eleven seasons are 273 games, 1,286 1/3 innings, 72 wins, 69 losses, 11 saves, 1,282 strikeouts, and a 3.55 ERA.

In 2009, Irabu had come out of retirement and made a contract with Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League. He posted a 5-3 record in 10 starts, with an ERA of 3.58. In 65 innings Irabu struck out 66 batters while walking just 19. In August, he announced his intention to return to the Japanese professional leagues.

On August 20, 2008, Irabu was arrested on the suspicion of assaulting the manager of a bar in Umeda, Osaka. He was upset that his credit card was not accepted in the bar. At the time of the suspected assault, Irabu had consumed at least 20 glasses of beer. Irabu admitted to the assault, the bartender sustained no injuries, and Irabu paid the bill with another credit card.

On May 17, 2010, Irabu was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena (although it was also reported to have been Redondo Beach). 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. The press release of his arrest states he resided at the time in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Final MLB statistics
Win–loss record:    34–35
Earned run average:    5.15
Strikeouts:    405

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