Sunday, July 10, 2005

Editor's Note: Today, your humble correspondant it taking the day off--he's at the beach--and allowing a guest writer to take over. Joshua Stober is my cousin, and like myself, a hopelessly devoted Yankee fan. Although we've both enjoyed their recent sucess, like me, Joshua endured the early 90s of John Habyan, Scott Kamieniecki and Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni. Today, he writes about the debut of a man who despite playing for the Yankees in the late 90s, seemed to share more in spirit with those earlier, Stump Merril managed teams.

July 10th, 1997

Hideki Irabu Debuts

I’ll always remember this game for the sheer number of Japanese people in attendance at Yankee Stadium. Irabu wasn’t the first Japanese player to make the transition to Major League Baseball from Japan, but his arrival to the Yankees was a choppy one.

The rights to negotiate with Irabu were sold to the San Diego Padres by the Chiba Lotte Marines in early 1997. Irabu said he would only pitch for the Yankees and four months later, the Yankees and Padres made one of the odder trades in baseball, with the Yankees sending $3 million in cash plus oft injured outfielder Ruben Rivera and a minor leaguer to the Padres for the mere right to negotiate with Hideki.
New York also received some minor league prospects with the deal. Irabu was finally signed on May 29th, 1997 to a 4 year $12.8 million contract that included an $8.5 million signing bonus.

Flash Forward to July 10th and Irabu’s first start, in which Hideki impressively struck out nine and held the Detroit Tigers to 3 runs. Alas, for Hideki, this would be one of the few highlights of his career. Irabu never won more than 13 games in a season, in fact only reaching above 10 wins once more. His 6 year career winning percentage was .493. Irabu moved on to the Montreal Expos for two seasons and in his last season in 2002 he was converted into a closer with 16 saves for the Texas Rangers.

He also holds the honor of being called a “Fat Pussy Toad” by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner for not covering first base during an exhibition game. Not that I disagree with George, but an exhibition game?

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