For the past six seasons, the Yankees have had a dependable, professional and productive Japanese import–Hideki Matsui, an outfielder who has been a steady contributor to the team.
Ten years ago, the Yankees had another Japanese import, their first (if you’re not counting Kats Maeda), also named Hideki, but he wasn’t really dependable, professional, and was only productive in short spurts.
Hideki Irabu made his first appearance as a MLB player in July of ’97 after the Yankees acquired his rights (Along with Homer Bush) from the Padres. There was a lot of build-up and media frenzy during the acquisition and Irabu’s stint in the minors. While he impressed in his first game against the Tigers, he quickly fell apart and went back and forth between the minors and the big leagues. A lot of news stories around the time focused on the fact that Irabu was rude, couldn’t cover first base and had a straight fastball.
Believe it or not, in the early months of the ’98 season, Irabu was the teams’ most dependable starter. In a year where injuries threatened the team early on, he kept a sub-3.00 ERA through July, and didn’t lose his first start until May 30.
Starting in late ’98, Hideki turned back into a pumpkin and floundered throughout ’99 before being dealt away to Montreal, in a deal where Expos management must have thought they were getting Cy Young.
The New York Times recently checked in on Irabu, who still lives in the U.S. and is in the restaurant business in California:
Irabu, who was out of the country and could not be reached for comment, now enjoys relative anonymity. He lives with his wife, Kyonsu, and two children in a three-bedroom home in the hills of Rancho Palos Verdes, about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. In his current hometown, the difference from Manhattan or Tokyo is as easy to spot as the horse trails that run alongside many of the streets. His main chore is checking in on a pair of Japanese restaurants he has invested in. “He has a good life,” Nomura said.
As for the restaurant business, “one day he called me and said he was buying a udon shop,” Nomura said of the Japanese term for noodle. The fast-food shop was open for about a year, but closed late last year despite what neighbors in the industrial neighborhood of Gardena said was a brisk lunch-time business. Nomura said Irabu sold the business, but has two other restaurants, although he is not involved in their day-to-day operations.
One thing about that article- in the picture, Irabu is wearing a long Yankees jacket- in the middle of July. And that summer was hot, and now that I think about it, he was always wearing long sleeves. Thing is, that summer, in New York, Irabu t-shirts were everywhere.
And as mentioned on his baseball-reference page, I still own two of them.