In one of the bedrooms, they found the friend the man had come to check on. His body, which a coroner measured at 6' 5" and 236 pounds, hung suspended from a half-inch-thick white rope.
Fourteen Julys after he had debuted on the mound at Yankee Stadium in front of 52,000 fans, and nine years after he’d thrown the last pitch of a major league career that had tailspinned from promising to punch line, Hideki Irabu, 42 years old, had died desperately alone.
When Roger Clemens turned in an uncharacteristically poor outing against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS, manager Joe Torre turned to the last man on his staff to mop up.
By the bottom of the sixth the score had ballooned to 9–0, and Irabu stormed into the Fenway Park clubhouse, firing his spikes into his locker and flinging his belt across the room. “George,” he said to his translator, George Rose, “did the manager take me out of the game?
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They wondered what more they might have done to keep him from the end of that rope. They called him Schwarzenegger for his imposing physique and “the Japanese Nolan Ryan” for his record-setting 99-mph fastballs.
His screams pierced the suburban idyll of the affluent neighborhood, with its hilltop homes and panoramic views up toward Los Angeles and out over the Pacific. He left no note for his wife and two young daughters, and though his computer was set to Japanese, a deputy determined that no document had been recently created. “The manner of death is suicide,” concluded the autopsy report, filed two mornings later.
Judging by the state of him, he had died several days before—perhaps on Sunday, the last time he was known to be alive.
After a stint in the minors, he returned to finish his first season with an ERA of 7.09, having yielded an astonishing 2.5 homers per nine innings. Derogatory details about Irabu’s personal habits leaked into the papers.
He smoked cigarettes after every half inning of every start. He ordered at a sushi bar by waving his arm over the fish on display, to indicate: all of it. He was short with American reporters and disdainful of the Japanese corps, which he called (goldfish s---) for the way it trailed him in a long line.