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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday …Hideki Irabu

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He was once called the Nolan Ryan of Japan, his fastball was considered that good. There was a lot of hype that came with Irabu. The hype turned out to be bigger and better than the actual performance of the pitcher in retrospect.

In 1997, the San Diego Padres purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines. The criticisms of this sale from other MLB teams, who wished to bid on Irabu, 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 going to the New York Yankees in exchange for Rafael Medina, Rubén 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.

Irabu made his highly publicized debut on July 10, 1997, drawing almost twice as many fans that night as they averaged for weeknight games. 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. George Steinbrenner publicly expressed disgust at his weight, at one point calling him a “fat 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.

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, he 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.

Irabu died in 2011 an apparent suicide.

Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights …Hideki Irabu.

Professional debut
NPB: May 7, 1988 for the Lotte Orions
MLB: July 10, 1997 for the New York Yankees
Last appearance
NPB: June 11, 2004 for the Hanshin Tigers
MLB: July 12, 2002 for the Texas Rangers
NPB statistics
Win–loss record 72–69
Earned run average 3.55
Strikeouts 1,282
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 34–35
Earned run average 5.15
Strikeouts 405
Teams
Career highlights and awards
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