- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 240 lb.
- High School Jinsei Gakuen High School
- Debut July 10, 1997
- Final Game July 12, 2002
- Born May 15, 1969 in Hirara, Okinawa, Japan
- Died July 27, 2011 in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA USA
Hideki Irabu was drafted by the then Lotte Orions in 1988. Irabu quickly joined the Orions his rookie year, going 2-5 with one save and a 3.89 ERA in 14 games. Irabu slowly developed into a steady reliever, though Lotte placed Irabu in the rotation where he struggled going 3-8 with a 6.88 ERA in 24 games. As a result, Irabu was placed back in the bullpen where he again showed promise. Irabu's career finally blossomed in 1994, where he went 15-10 with a 3.04 ERA, with 16 complete games in 27 games. Irabu continued to blossom, going 11-11 with a 2.53 ERA in 1995 and 12-6 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 games in 1996. Irabu was selected to two Best Nine squads (1994 and 1995).
Following the 1996 season, Hideki Irabu announced he wanted to go to the majors, so Chiba, which had a working agreement with the San Diego Padres sold him to the Padres. Irabu, who stated that he would only play for the New York Yankees, ended up getting his way and was traded to the Yankees for outfielder Ruben Rivera, pitcher Rafael Medina, and $3 million in cash. Irabu signed a $12.8 million deal with the Yankees in May 1997.
Irabu struggled in his first year, going 5-4 with a 7.09 ERA in 13 games. In 1998, Irabu blossomed into what would be his best major league year, going 13-9 with a 4.06 ERA in 29 games. Finishing out his career in New York in 1999, Irabu went 11-7 with a 4.84 ERA 32 games.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wasn't a big fan of Irabu, though, and once called him a "fat toad". He traded him to the Montreal Expos for pitchers Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly, and Christian Parker, a trade executed at the behest of new owner Jeffrey Loria which would cost the Expos dearly, as they lost their top three minor league pitching prospects in one fell swoop. Irabu struggled mightily with the Expos in his two years there, while spending most of his time on the disabled list. When he missed a rehabilitation start with the Ottawa Lynx because he was apparently drunk, it was the last straw, and the Expos unceremoniously handed him his release.
Irabu signed with the Texas Rangers for 2002, where he was placed in the closer role, going 3-8 with 16 saves and a 5.74 ERA in 38 games. That year, he joined with Hideo Nomo and Mac Suzuki to purchase the Elmira Pioneers. Irabu finished his MLB career with a 34-35 record, 16 saves, and a 5.15 ERA in 126 games.
As a result, Irabu went back to Japan and signed with the Hanshin Tigers in 2003. Irabu went on to have a decent year, going 13-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 27 games. He was lit up in the Nippon Series that year, however, and ended up being injured in his last year with the Tigers, going 0-2 with a 13.11 ERA in 3 games. Irabu announced his retirement in early 2005, finishing his NPB career with a 72-69 record, with 11 saves and a 3.47 ERA in 273 games.
As of 2007, Irabu lived in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and daughter. He was running an udon restaurant there.
In August 2008, Irabu was arrested for allegedly attacking a restaurant manager in Osaka at 3 AM after drinking about 20 jugs of beer during the night.
In May 2009, Irabu came out of four years of retirement to pitch for the Long Beach Armada of the U.S. independent professional Golden Baseball League. That August 2009, he returned to Japan to play in the independent Shikoku-Kyushu Island League with the Kochi Fighting Dogs, a team in southern Shikoku.
Irabu was found dead in his California home on July 27, 2011; the Los Angeles County coroner announced that the cause of death was hanging, as Irabu had apparently committed suicide at age 42. He did not leave a note.
- Ben Reiter: "The Complicated Life and Death of Hideki Irabu", Sports Illustrated, August 7, 2017.