Igawa wasn’t the only failed Japanese experiment for the Yankees. Hideki Irabu was a mainstay in the Japanese League before the Padres expressed interest in him in 1997, buying his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines.
He, however, only wanted to pitch for the Yankees, so the club made a trade for him. Irabu was hyped beyond belief as one of the first Japanese pitchers in MLB and as a potential ace for the Yanks, but he flamed out rapidly.
Over two seasons, Irabu posted a 29-20 record and 4.80 ERA. He had a few decent months but proved to be a wildly inconsistent pitcher. His weight and work ethic were brought up often, as George Steinbrenner even commented that Irabu was a “fat p***y toad” after he failed to cover first base in a spring training game.
Irabu was then traded to the Expos in 1999 and experienced a meager career after that. He couldn’t cut it as a closer for the Rangers and a Japanese League revival sputtered. Many remember him solely as a joke from Seinfeld, where George Costanza’s dad questions Steinbrenner — and how he can give $12 million for Irabu.
It wasn’t the first time Costanza chastised Steinbrenner, as he interrogated him for trading Jay Buhner in Season 7. Sadly, Irabu committed suicide in 2011. Ben Reiter’s Sports Illustrated article detailing Irabu’s troubled life is a great read.