Hideki Irabu, a star Japanese pitcher who struggled to achieve comparable success in the United States, was found dead Wednesday in his Rancho Palos Verdes home. He was 42.
Authorities are investigating his death “as an apparent suicide and hanging,” said Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County coroner’s investigations division.
Irabu was best known in the United States for his three-year stint with the New York Yankees, where he was an inconsistent but key contributor on two championship teams in 1998 and 1999.
His best season was 1998, his second in the major leagues, when he compiled a 13-9 record for the Yankees and an earned-run average of 4.06. The team, managed by future Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, won a then-league record 114 games.
Irabu, who was born May 5, 1969, in Hyogo, Japan, came to American baseball via the San Diego Padres, who obtained the rights to his services from Chiba Lotte in the Japan Pacific League. Irabu refused to play for the Padres, forcing a trade to New York.
Three years later, he’d worn out his welcome. At one point, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner belittled Irabu for his girth and perceived lack of hustle, calling him a “fat toad.”
The right-hander was listed as 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds.
Because his early career was in Japan, Irabu reached the major leagues at the relatively advanced age of 28, but his career also ended early for a player signed to a big contract as a star-quality contributor.
After three years with the Yankees, he played for the Montreal Expos in the National League and the Texas Rangers in the American League. He was 33 in his final season in 2002. His overall record was 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA.
Irabu, who pitched in 2009 for the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League and for a Japanese team, was arrested last year in Gardena on suspicion of drunk driving.