This week, it was reported that former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu had been found dead at his home near Los Angeles at the age of 42. The autopsy is happening today, but authorities are investigating his death as an apparent suicide and hanging. Friends, former teammates and admirers are trying to make sense of his death: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Hideki Irabu. Every player that wears the Pinstripes is forever a part of the Yankees family, and his death is felt throughout our organization. Our sympathies and support go out to his wife, Kyonsu, his two children, and all of his friends and loved ones," the New York Yankees said in a statement.
Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who managed Irabu for one season in Japan, told the Times that Irabu's six-seasons in the MLB were very hard after he had dominated in Japan for nine years: “Honestly, I really think he had a hard time dealing with that,” Valentine said in a telephone interview. While Valentine agreed that Irabu was "set up to fail" in NY after his ignominious start, he had other vices which plagued him during that time: “He was a world-class pitcher and he wasted a lot of time doing things he shouldn’t have been doing." Asked for an example, Valentine said, “He liked to drink beer.”
William Kelly, a Yale anthropology professor and author who has written on Japanese sports and culture, imagined that Irabu always had problems with his identity: “My surmise is that Irabu was somebody who had a really tough time growing up in a very tough neighborhood as a mixed-race person, which in Japan’s homogenous society can be difficult. He had a thick skin and independent streak and coming to the U.S. he probably miscalculated, thinking that players with an edge were admired."
Hideki Okuda, who interviewed Irabu for a Japanese publication, Sports Nippon, said that it was likely that Irabu felt a profound sense of failure, compared to other Japanese players (such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) who were able to succeed in the majors: “Remember, people called him the Japanese Nolan Ryan back then. Such high expectations. High pressure. Famous owner. But the only thing I can say is that it was his choice.”