Hideki Irabu’s sad final years

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Ken Belson of the New York Times had an excellent albeit sad story in yesterday’s New York Times about the final years of Hideki Irabu, who committed suicide in late July.

In some ways it’s a familiar story of an athlete who doesn’t know what to do with himself after his playing days are over. But there’s one aspect of it Belson touches on that made Irabu’s situation way worse: he was basically a man without a country.

He was of mixed heritage, with his father being an American military man who has been stationed on Okinawa and who Irbau never met. This caused him to be taunted to some degree by the media and fans when he played in Japan. After coming to America to play he remained here, living in Southern California, but he never really got acclimated. Belson says that before he killed himself his wife and children, “had become acculturated to American life” and left him.

We saw during his career that he was not one who fit in easily anywhere. We learn now that, on top of that, he was isolated.  Putting that together with a career that was unsatisfying in many respects and which he tried and failed to revive later, it’s much easier to understand why the man was so haunted in his final days.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.