One of the most exciting nights I ever spent in Yankee Stadium was July 10, 1997. That was Hideki Irabu's first major league start, and the whole stadium was buzzing to see what he would do against the Tigers. Irabu didn't disappoint, striking out nine and flashing great stuff that made it seem like he was destined to become a Yankee legend.
And he turned out to be a legend, albeit not the one everyone thought he'd be. Irabu didn't give up a home run that night, but he wouldn't be so lucky in most of his Yankee starts, and his roly-poly physique went from endearing to aggravating as he continually came up lame. In the end, the only thing he'll really be remembered for is the moment when George Steinbrenner called him a "fat, pussy (as in full of pus) toad." That sealed his fate with the Yankees, and his pitching took care of his major league career a short time later.
Or so we thought. The toad is trying to make a comeback, according to Nikkan Sports (and helpfully translated by NPB Tracker).
That he’s aiming for a comeback is true. Because he’s gotten back into shape, he came to want play again. He’s playing with a cheerful demeanor. He wants to get tryouts and find a club he can play for. He’s looking to make a comeback in the independent leagues during the season. Looking to the future, the thinking is that if possible he wants to return to a high level, like MLB or NPB.
The whole idea of Irabu, who turns 40 in May, coming back to the big leagues is beyond surreal. How surreal? East Windup Chronicle, a site that tracks baseball in the Far East, ran an Irabu comeback story as an April Fools joke this month.
How can you not root for a guy who is truly living out an April Fools joke? Especially when he's playing with a cheerful demeanor! Nobody is clamoring for him to come back to the Yankees, not unless this Chien-Ming Wang business really gets out of hand, but it would be a great late-season story to see him make another start. Fly on, fat toad, and make us proud!
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.