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Former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu found dead in Rancho Palos Verdes

July 28, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Then-New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu in July 1999. Irabu was found dead Thursday in his home in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Hideki Irabu, a star Japanese baseball player who struggled to achieve comparable success in the United States, was found dead Wednesday in his Rancho Palos Verdes home.

Authorities are investigating his death “as an apparent suicide and hanging,” said Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s investigations division.

Irabu, 42, was best known in the United States for his stint with the New York Yankees, where he was an inconsistent but key contributor on two championship teams in 1998 and 1999.

His best season was 1998, his second in the American League, when he compiled 13 wins and nine losses for the Yankees and an earned run average of 4.06.

In 173 innings he gave up 148 hits, while striking out 126 batters. The team, managed by future Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, won a then-league record 114 games.

Irabu also posted a winning record, 11-7, on the championship team of the following year. His higher earned run average of 4.84, however, denoted his inconsistency.

Irabu came to American baseball via the San Diego Padres, who obtained the rights to his services from a team in the Japan Pacific League. Irabu refused to play for the Padres, forcing a trade to New York.

Three years later, he’d worn out his welcome. At one point, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner belittled Irabu for his girth and perceived lack of hustle, calling him a “fat toad.”

The right-hander was listed as 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds.

Because his early career was in Japan, Irabu reached the major leagues at the relatively advanced age of 28, but his career also ended early for a player signed to a big contract as a star-quality contributor.

After three years with the Yankees, he played for the Montreal Expos in the National League and the Texas Rangers in the American League. He was 33 in his final season in 2002. His career record was 34-35.

He was arrested last year in Gardena for alleged drunk driving.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Then-New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu in July 1999. Irabu was found dead Thursday in his home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Credit: Ray Stubblebine / Reuters

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