Hideki Irabu was a star in Japan and made sports labor history in maneuvering his way from the Chiba Lotte Marines to the New York Yankees in 1997. He then played six mostly disappointing years in the big leagues, finishing up with the Rangers in 2002. As you likely know, Irabu took his own life in July of 2011, leaving behind a wife and two children who had already left him.
After his playing days were over, he became listless and depressed. He was a man of big appetites when he played, and without the structure of baseball, those big appetites — for alcohol, particularly — contributed to his undoing. Also contributing: a lack of identity or purpose, much of which was tied up in his lack of belonging. He was of mixed heritage, with his father being an American military man who was stationed on Okinawa and who Irbau would not meet until adulthood. Growing up, this caused him to be taunted, making Japan something less than home for him later. After meeting his father upon arriving in America, the two would not become close. Too much time and history had passed.
Today Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated writes about Irabu and his sad and complicated life. It’s must-read stuff, filling in the gaps most of us likely never thought much about. He was, infamously, the man George Steinbrenner called a “fat toad” and he was not the player he was advertised to be, but rare has it been that we’ve learned anything about Hideki Irabu the man.
Take some time on this slow news day and check it out.