Yankees teammates react to Irabu’s passing

Hideki Irabu, Aug. 2009. Kyodo News photo

NEW YORK — Former teammates of New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu were surprised and saddened July 29 after hearing that he was found dead the previous day at his home in a Los Angeles suburb in an apparent suicide. He was 42.

Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who caught Irabu’s major league debut against the Detroit Tigers, told a press conference that he was saddened by the sudden passing.

“He was a good teammate. He was enjoyable to be around. He pitched a lot of good games for us,” he said. “He’s going to be missed.”

Irabu signed with the Yankees in 1997 and spent the first three of his six major league seasons in New York. The highly touted right-hander arrived in the United States en route to winning two championship rings with the Yankees, but ultimately, he struggled with inconsistent performances that fell short of expectations.

Irabu’s body was found on July 27 at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. Public information officials at the L.A. County Department of Coroner said July 29 that an autopsy confirmed he hanged himself.

Jorge Posada, now the club’s designated hitter, also served as Irabu’s catcher during the 1998 and 1999 championship seasons. He told reporters he was devastated by the news.

“I got to know him real well. He was a guy that came out here with a lot riding on his shoulders,” he said. “When he was into it, he was probably the nastiest pitcher in the league.”

Shortstop Derek Jeter said he was “caught off guard” by Irabu’s death. But Jeter and Posada also described Irabu as a fun teammate, despite the language barrier.

“He didn’t speak much English. He knew more than he probably led you guys to believe. He was fun to be around,” said Jeter.

Posada said Irabu was great in the clubhouse.

“He always had a smile on his face. I really enjoyed being in the clubhouse. Obviously, the communication barrier was there, and he was always trying to learn the language. The words that he spoke were the funny ones,” he said.

The Yankees released a statement on July 28 expressing their condolences to Irabu’s friends and family.

Irabu posted a 34-35 record with 16 saves and a 5.15 ERA in the major leagues from 1997 to 2002 with the Yankees, Montreal Expos and the Texas Rangers.

In 11 seasons in Japan, he had a 72-69 career record with a 3.55 ERA and 11 saves, playing for the Lotte Marines in 1988-1996 and the Hanshin Tigers in 2003-2004.

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