“His moodiness, injuries and weight problems led George Steinbrenner to call him a fat toad, a stinging tag that he could not shake,” writes the New York Times’ Ken Belson of the late Hideki Irabu, whose suicide by hanging this past summer has not (until now, anyway) led to deeper reflection on Irabu’s personality or struggles. “Irabu Got Lost On The Road Back” mostly chronicles the right-hander’s brief tenure with the Long Beach Armada of the now-defunct Golden League, and while it’s equal parts sad and illuminating, a rare bit of comic relief is provided by another pitcher who also shuffled off this mortal coil recently. Enter Jose Lima, “the only teammate who felt compelled to communicate with Irabu”.
Lima was perhaps the only person with enough stature to needle Irabu, and he did not miss the chance. About an hour before the Armada were to play the Scorpions in Yuma, Irabu had still not shown up. (Irabu pitched twice on the road because the parks were within driving distance of his home.)
Typically, the manager or coach would give that night’s starting pitcher the ball to be used to start the game. It was a bit of ceremony, but Irabu was nowhere to be seen that night. So Lima took the ball, put it in a clear plastic baggie, taped it to the clubhouse wall and wrote, Irabu #?, on the tape.
Irabu chuckled when he showed up, then he threw five innings, gave up four runs and struck out six to earn the win.
Another time, someone left a sign at Irabu’s locker that had a picture of two Japanese businessmen laughing with the words, ROR: Raugh out Roud. Some said Irabu got the joke.