Coroner Rules Ex-Big League Pitcher Irabu Hanged Self

Autopsy confirms early suspicions

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    In this July 10, 1997, file photo, New York Yankees Hideki Irabu pitches in the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers.

    The death of former Major League pitcher Hideki Irabu was confirmed as a suicide by hanging by Los Angeles health officials.

    Irabu, who was 42 and married with two children, died July 27 at his LA home. Suicide was immediately suspected, and the determination by the LA Department of Health that his death was "self-inflicted with rope" affirmed suspicions.

    Irabu joined the Yankees 14 years ago in a swell of international excitement. The hard-throwing right-hander with a 98-mph fastball was billed as the Japanese version of Nolan Ryan and seemed destined to become a pioneering star for American baseball's marquee franchise.

    "He was a world-class pitcher," said former major league manager Bobby Valentine, who managed Irabu in Japan in 1995. "When Nolan Ryan saw him, he said he had never seen anything like it. There were just some days when he was as good a pitcher as I had ever seen. A fabulous arm."

    After an impressive debut with the Yankees that summer, he was a disappointment to the Yankees and himself during three seasons in the Bronx. Instead, he was forever tagged with a label from late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who called him a "fat ... toad" after Irabu failed to cover first base during an exhibition game.

    Irabu finished 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in his tenure with the Yankees, two years in Montreal and a final season in the Texas bullpen in 2002.

    Friends said the ex-pitcher was despondent over a split with his wife.