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Hideki Irabu

July 31, 2011 by staff 

Hideki IrabuHideki Irabu, Hideki Irabu, a former Japanese baseball star who was hailed as a sensation of pitching when he joined the Yankees in 1997, but fell short of expectations, prompting an angry George Steinbrenner called a “toad” was found dead Wednesday in Los Angeles neighborhood where he lived. He was 42.

Lt. Fred Corral of the coroner’s Investigations Division of the County of Los Angeles said Thursday that Irabu had apparently hanged himself in a house in Rancho Palos Verdes. A friend discovered the body late Wednesday, Corral said it was unclear if the house was Irabu, he said.

Irabu recent years had been problematic. He pleaded guilty to assaulting a waiter in Japan in 2008 and was arrested last year on drunken driving charges in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena.

Irabu was part of a first wave of Japanese star players recruited by major league teams. When he made his highly anticipated debut with the Yankees on July 10, 1997, against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium had a playoff atmosphere. A crowd of 51,901 showed up, as well as 300 journalists.

In Japan, 35 million people watched the game on television. Steinbrenner, the Yankees principal owner, said it was the most pressure he had seen in a Yankee 25. That day, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Irabu had honored at City Hall.

The Yankees had signed and 12.8 million for four years. It was the richest deal in history for a player who had yet to throw a pitch in the majors.

Irabu, who was 28 years old, 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, accepted the challenge in his first start, striking out nine batters in 6 2 / 3 innings. The Yankees won, 10-3, and the crowd erupted when Irabu, announced as the Nolan Ryan of Japan, returned to the field for a curtain call.

The night proved a high point. Irabu finished the season with a 5-4 record and 7.09 earned run average and was sent to the minors before the season was over. The following year, he never got into a playoff game as the Yankees swept the Padres in the World Series.

In 1999, Steinbrenner exploded in anger after Irabu not cover first base in an exhibition game. The “toad” epithet was widespread.

After the season, Irabu was traded to Montreal, where he pitched for two seasons before working on the relief of the Texas Rangers in 2002. His record in the majors was 34-35.

Irabu returned to Japan to pitch for the Hanshin Tigers in 2003. In California, for the Navy launched the long beach of the Golden Baseball League independent in 2009.

Also invested in Japanese restaurants in the area of?? Los Angeles, where he lived with his wife, Kyonsu, and their two children.

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