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Hideki Irabu ( ) (born May 15, 1969 in Hirara (now: Miyakojima), Okinawa Prefecturemarker, Japanmarker) is a professional baseball player of Okinawan ethnicity. Irabu's biological father is American and Irabu was raised by Ichiro Irabu and his wife, Kazue. He grew up in Amagasaki, Hyōgo Prefecturemarker.

Irabu pitched for the Lotte Orions, who later became the Chiba Lotte Marines, of the Pacific League from 1988 to 1996. He was known as a high-speed pitcher and in 1993, he threw a 158 km/h (98mph) fastball against Kazuhiro Kiyohara of the Seibu Lions. This was the fastest clocked pitch in all of Japanese Professional Baseball (NPB) until 2005, when the record was broken by Marc Kroon of the Yokohama Bay Stars. However, it remains the Pacific League record. Irabu led the Pacific League in wins in 1994 (27 games, 207 1/3 innings, 15 wins, 10 losses, 239 strikeouts, ERA 3.04), and in ERA in 1995 and 1996 (1995 - 28, 203, 11-11-0, 239, 2.53; 1996 - 18, 157 1/3, 12-6-0, 167, 2.40). In these successive years, Irabu monopolized the title of greatest strikeout pitcher in his league.

In 1997, the San Diego Padres purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines. This signing is especially notable because it led to the creation of the posting system currently used by Japanese and MLB teams. Irabu, however, refused to sign with the Padres, saying he would only play with the Yankees. For the negotiating rights to Irabu, the Yankees offered the Padres a choice of one from a list of players including Brian Boehringer, David Weathers, Chris Cumberland, Andy Fox, and Matt Luke. The Padres would eventually include him as a player-to-be-named-later in a trade that involved Homer Bush and Irabu traveling to the New York Yankees in exchange for Rafael Medina, Ruben Rivera, and $3 million in cash. The Yankees signed him to a $12.8 million, four-year contract, and after only eight minor league games, the Yankees put him in their rotation.

He played with the Yankees from 1997 through 1999, winning two World Series rings (1998, 1999) despite only pitching in one postseason game and having no postseason decisions (ironically, the 1998 win was against the Padres). George Steinbrenner publicly expressed disgust at his weight, at one point calling him a "fat pussy toad" (as in 'full of pus') after he failed to cover first base on a ground ball during a spring training game. Steinbrenner refused to let Irabu accompany the team to Los Angeles, but two days later, Steinbrenner apologized and allowed Irabu to join the team. Steinbrenner's own dissatisfaction with Irabu was parodied in the final episode of Seinfeld; with the fictionalised Steinbrenner on the witness stand, George Costanza's father stands up in the court gallery and berates him for Irabu's inflated salary.

1998 was his best season in MLB, featuring career bests in games started (28), complete games (2), innings pitched (173), wins (13), and ERA (4.06). His high salary at the time and lack of performance led many Boston Red Sox fans to nickname him Hideki "I rob you", a play on his name Irabu. Yankees fans were initially resentful at this nickname but later adopted it as well as their frustration with Irabu grew.

After the 1999 season, he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Ted Lilly, Christian Parker, and Jake Westbrook. He started only 14 games for the Expos in 2000 and 2001, pitching 71⅓ innings with a 6.69 ERA and only 2 wins against 7 losses. In 2002, he signed as a free agent to pitch for the Texas Rangers as a closer. At the end of the year, Irabu moved back to Japan to pitch in the Hanshin Tigers' starting rotation for the 2003 season, helping the team win the Central League pennant for the first time since 1985. When Major League Baseball opened its 2004 season in Tokyo, he pitched against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Today, Irabu is retired and living in California.

Over the course of six MLB seasons, Irabu's career totals are 126 games, 514 innings, 34 wins, 35 losses, 16 saves, 405 strikeouts, and a 5.15 ERA. His Japanese totals for eleven seasons are 273 games, 1,286 1/3 innings, 72 wins, 69 losses, 11 saves, 1,282 strikeouts, and a 3.55 ERA.

On August 20, 2008, Irabu was arrested on the suspicion of assaulting the manager of a bar in Umeda, Osaka. He was upset that his credit card was not accepted in the bar. At the time of the suspected assault, Irabu had consumed at least 20 glasses of beer. Irabu admitted the assault, the bartender sustained no injuries, and Irabu paid the bill with another credit card.

His management revealed on April 27, 2009 that Irabu had come out of retirement and made a contract with Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League. He posted a 5-3 record in 10 starts, with an ERA of 3.58. In 65 innings Irabu struck out 66 batters while walking just 19. In August, he announced his intention to return to the Japanese professional leagues.

References

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  4. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-japan-irabu&prov=ap&type=lgns


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