Ex-Yankee Hideki Irabu found dead in California

LOS ANGELES - (AP) - Former New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabuwas found dead, an apparent suicide in the wealthy suburb of RanchoPalos Verdes.

County sheriff's Sgt. Michael Arriaga confirmed Thursday thatthe 42-year-old Irabu was "found dead by an apparent suicide" theprevious evening.

Los Angeles County coroner's official Ed Winter said his officewas not releasing any circumstances of the death other than it wasbeing investigated as a suicide. The autopsy will be performedFriday or Saturday.

Neighbors described Irabu as a quiet, unassuming man who hadapparently grown despondent recently because of a split with hiswife.

Mary Feuerlicht said she was about to go pick up her son onWednesday morning when a man came running down the driveway fromIrabu's large two-story home, perched atop a hill with views of theharbor and downtown Los Angeles, pleading with her to call police.

Feuerlicht said she was later told by sheriff's deputies and theman who asked her for help that Irabu's wife had left him and tooktheir two young daughters.

"When I saw him for the past month or so he seemed kind ofdown," she said. "He wasn't kind of perky like I've seen himbefore."

Former major league manager Bobby Valentine, now an ESPNbroadcaster, managed Irabu in Japan in 1995. Valentine said he gotthe news Thursday when it came across on his mobile phone.

"I got a little sick to my stomach, actually," he said.

Irabu was billed as the Japanese version of Nolan Ryan when hearrived in the United States in 1997. But after an impressive majorleague debut with the Yankees that summer, he never came close tofulfilling such lofty expectations.

"He was a world-class pitcher. When Nolan Ryan saw him he saidhe had never seen anything like it," Valentine said. "There werejust some days when he was as good a pitcher as I had ever seen. Afabulous arm."

Irabu finished 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in three seasons with theYankees, two years in Montreal and a final season in the Texasbullpen in 2002. He was a member of two Yankees teams that won theWorld Series, but his only postseason action was a single reliefappearance in the 1999 AL championship series when Boston taggedhim for 13 hits.

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