Reiter: The complicated life and death of Hideki Irabu

From Ben Reiter at Sports Illustrated on August 1, 2017:

They called him Schwarzenegger for his imposing physique and “the Japanese Nolan Ryan” for his record-setting 99-mph fastballs. But the nickname that would stick to Hideki Irabu was uttered by George Steinbrenner in a fit of pique at the end of spring training in 1999: the Fat Pus-sy Toad. “Rhymes with fussy,” the New York Post always helpfully noted of the sobriquet that would define Irabu’s reputation.

His 1997 arrival in New York City—after a monthslong dispute over his right to leave the Chiba Lotte Marines and join his chosen MLB team—had been so auspicious. On July 9, after he signed a four-year, $12.8 million contract, Mayor Rudy Giuliani caught a pitch from Irabu on the steps of City Hall and presented him with a Tiffany crystal apple. The next day the righthander struck out nine Tigers over 6 2⁄3 innings.

Tasked with charting Irabu’s pitches from the dugout, rotation mate David Cone was enthralled. “There were so many different velocities—87, 89, 84, 95, 97,” Cone recalls. “He was a big guy, strong, and you’d heard about the power—but it wasn’t all power. He seemed to have finesse as well.” Giuliani never missed a chance to attach himself to the Yankees’ successes, which he did the following Sunday in his weekly radio address. “Hideki, like the millions of others over the last century, wanted to live the American dream in the greatest American city,” he said.

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Originally published: August 4, 2017. Last Updated: August 4, 2017.