Be careful what you wish for, Yankee fans

Bill Gallo's "Baron von Steingrabber"

There were reasons why the late great New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo portrayed George Steinbrenner as a Prussian autocrat. Today’s Yankee fan demanding “What would George do?” seems almost clueless. Almost.

Steven Goldman is a Baseball Prospectus writer whose Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel should be required reading for anyone clinging to the myth that anyone short of a trained seal could have just wandered in and managed the 1949-60 Yankees to greatness. (Ten pennants, seven World Series rings.)

Goldman also thinks Yankee fans today need to get over the “What would George have done?” syndrome like five minutes ago.

Yes, the Yankees are 5-7 in their last twelve games and dropped two out of three to the Mets in holiday weekend interplay. Yes, they often seem like fish flopping on the dock or the boat deck, after being reeled in following an arduous battle.

And, yes, principal owner Hal Steinbrenner isn’t exactly his father’s son. Not if you consider a hair trigger pro-active leadership. Prince Hal would never have dismissed a promising but struggling prospect as the horse that spit the bit. It’s almost (underline that) to wonder how Prince Hal was a Steinbrenner in the first place.

On Sunday, the Mets nuked Yankee reliever Aroldis Chapman in the seventh of game one of a doubleheader made necessary by a Friday night rainout. Handed a 5-4 lead to protect, Chapman threw a 1-2 pitch to Pete Alonso that got sent over the left center field fence to tie. Oops.

He hit Michael Conforto with an 0-2 pitch, he walked Jeff McNeil on a full count, then watched his relief Lucas Luetge surrender a bases-loading single (Kevin Pillar), get the first Met out of the inning (James McCann, swinging strikeout), but then . . . two-run double (pinch hitter Jose Peraza), two-run single (Brandon Nimmo), RBI single (Francisco Lindor), before Luetge finally escaped the fire with Mets reliever Seth Lugo dispatching the Yankees too quietly in the bottom to end it.

Any team doing that to the Yankees that late in the game would have had The Boss going rogue. The Mets doing it would have had him going so far beyond that “rogue” would have seemed a relief.

“[B]oth social media and the Yankees broadcasters wondered how ‘George’ would have reacted had he been alive to see the resultant defeat. He would have reacted poorly,” Goldman writes.

During his lifetime, which ended 11 years ago, long after he had subsided into senescence, [The Boss] had placed a disproportionate emphasis on beating the Mets during meetings that, prior to the advent of interleague play in 1997, were restricted to meaningless exhibition games.

“He goes crazy if we lose to the Mets, even if it’s spring training,” said five-time Steinbrenner manager Billy Martin in his 1980 memoir Number 1. “He feels we’re going to lose fans to them if they beat us. It’s ridiculous, and it makes the players laugh at him.” Sometimes their reaction was a bit harsher than laughter. “The more we lose, the more he’ll fly in here,” third baseman Graig Nettles said in the last 1970s, “and the more he flies in, the better chance there’ll be a plane crash.”

George Steinbrenner was an awful lot more than just the man who threw out the first manager of the year, before his 1990 banishment over engaging a street hustler to help him soil the reputation of his Hall of Fame right fielder Dave Winfield. When things got a little dicey before then, The Boss left you surprised only that he hadn’t traded his entire organisation for that of the Mariners.

“[W]e know what George would have done were he alive today,” Goldman writes:

He would have flailed spasmodically, he would have made a lot of people unhappy to be Yankees employees, and he would have ordered Jasson Dominquez traded to the Tigers for Matthew Boyd, had Gleyber Torres and Anthony Volpe sent to the Rangers for Kyle Gibson and David Dahl, and taken whatever was left over and given it to the Royals for Mike Minor. And nothing would have changed except that in the short term the team’s record might have gotten even worse and in the longer term it definitely would have gotten worse. Anyone old enough to remember Steinbrenner’s immortal words of July 13, 1987 can tell you how that worked, words that should be emblazoned on Steinbrenner’s grave and the monument to him at Yankee Stadium in burning letters 15 stories high: “Lou, I just won you the pennant. I got you Steve Trout.”

Maybe today’s Yankee fan is typically someone who wasn’t alive when the depth of George Steinbrenner’s act hit depths possibly unseen among baseball owners—whose penchant for hitting depths is only slightly younger than the nation that loves the game to its soul—since the day William B. Cox was forced to sell the Phillies when manager Bucky Harris discovered Cox was betting on his own team.

“Here is a pretty judicial pickle,” wrote George F. Will, on the threshold of Steinbrenner’s suspension, in Newsweek. (The essay was called, “A One-Man Error Machine.”) “Imagine trying to assemble an impartial jury of New Yorkers to hear Steinbrenner’s case. ‘Tell the court, Mr. Prospective Juror, do you have any strong opinions about the owner who masterminded the trade of Fred McGriff from the Yankees to the Blue Jays in exchange for a couple of no-names? Stop snarling, Prospective Juror’.”

Maybe today’s Yankee fan forgets, if he or she really knew, what happened the night the news broke of Steinbrenner’s suspension over l’affaire Winfield: The Yankees hosted the Tigers. Yankee Stadium fans clung to portable radios. The news broke as the Tigers came up to bat. Cheering began at one end of the ballpark and swelled to cover the entire stands. The Tigers had no idea why they were coming up to hit to a loud standing ovation.

Goldman knows the what-would-George-have-done faction among Yankee fans (and broadcasters) either forget or ignore that Steinbrenner’s wholly-earned suspension did what more people than you might think thought would have been impossible during the 1980s. It kept The Boss from continuing his King of Hearts act (Don’t be nervous or I’ll have you executed on the spot!) and enabled general manager Gene Michael to rebuild the Yankees back to greatness.

Michael’s salient quality was the diametric opposite of Steinbrenner’s. Michael knew what he was doing. Michael would never have thought he could make Tommy John or Hall of Famer Phil Niekro into young sprouts again. He never would have traded McGriff. He never would have tried to make Ozzie Smith out of Bobby Meacham. He never would have had twelve managers and seventeen pitching coaches in two decades.

The what-would-George-have-done contingent would have unloaded Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams at the drop of a four-game losing streak. To err is human; to forgive is not Yankee policy. Goldman knows that, too.

To ask what he would have done now or to wish that he were still around to do it is a fundamentally masochistic wish that suggests just how many toxic fathers have damaged their kids along with passing on their baseball fandom. How else to you explain this perverse prayer for an abusive, incompetent papa who, because we grew up to the sounds of his yelling and breaking the furniture, left us longing to experience the same chaos again? It’s the same wish that brought us Donald Trump (he and George were patrons of “Bully/Coward/Victim” Roy Cohn). Please, dear dead daddy, claw your way out of whatever Hell you reside in and show us your impotent love by saying something crude about a player who’s trying his best and then trading a top prospect for Merrill Kelly. You so crippled us that this is the only kind of love we can understand.

Who was Merrill Kelly? Don’t ask. Just thank God and His servant Stengel that Michael’s cooler head prevailed and The Mariano wasn’t traded for Felix Fermin—by a hair.

Did analytics turn this year’s Yankees into an inconsistent mess? Not quite, Goldman says. Analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you wish to call it, is nothing more and nothing less than objective information. “Facts themselves are not slanted; it’s what decision-makers do with them that leads to good or bad outcomes,” he writes.

If analytics exists to supply team leadership with a set of facts, then the opposite of being “weighted 90-10” towards analytics would mean a 90-10 bias in favor of—what? Just going with your gut regardless of what the facts might direct you to do? Well, that’s what George Steinbrenner did. If that’s what Yankees fans are asking for then they deserve what they’re going to get—a whole lotta nothing, just as was the case from 1979 through 1995. Better to shout, “Down beast! Down!” and drive the creature back to the place from whence it came.

“Some kids want to join the circus when they grow up,” said Graig Nettles, who often fenced with The Boss himself over trivialities great, small, and surreal. “Others want to be big league baseball players. I feel lucky. When I came to the Yankees, I got to do both.”

There was no better epitaph for the depths of The Boss’s reign than the late-80s Banner Day winner dressed as a monk, holding a scythe from which hung the sign, “Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does.” (The poor fellow got his prize—and was ejected from the ballpark on The Boss’s orders.)

Letting the kids play is one thing. Yankee fans demanding their team be allowed to party like it’s 1980-90 all over again are something else entirely. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they really want.

With a friend like Trump . . .


President Donald Trump, holding a New England Patriots helmet at the White House celebrating the Pats’ Super Bowl LIII victory. He managed to conflate a football beneficiary of the former Alabama coach running for the Senate with the man who coached the Pats’ American Football League ancestors, among others.

When last we had occasion to think of Donald Trump in sports terms having nothing to do with kneeling during the National Anthem, he attended Game Five of the last World Series in Nationals Park. He was booed rather lustily, with intermittent chants of “Lock him up!” punctuating the chorus.

The “lock him up!” chants returned in the seventh inning—not for President Tweety, but for home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, whose evening to that point was full of such dubious calls (including the fourth ball called a third strike on Nationals outfielder Victor Robles during the inning) that both Nationals and Houston Astros fans alike wanted him in the stockade.

Now, though, the president about whom “polarising” often feels high praise arouses the attention of Deadspin, the online sports publication. He arouses it by way of the campaign trail, on a conference call, supporting former longtime Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign as Alabama’s newly-crowned Republican nominee to the U.S. Senate.

Trump wanted to praise Tuberville as the reason the University of Alabama hired a particular football coach, after the Auburn Tigers bushwhacked the Crimson Tide in six straight meetings between the two schools. Then, he wanted to praise that coach. Uh, oh. “Beat Alabama, like six in a row, but we won’t even mention that,” President Tweety began, starting with Tuberville. “As he said . . . because of that, maybe we got ‘em Lou Saban . . . And he’s great, Lou Saban, what a great job he’s done.”

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban must be double-checking his records to be sure he didn’t change his name inadvertently, somewhere. And, to re-assure himself, with apologies to Mark Twain, that the reports of his death have indeed been exaggerated greatly. The National Football League and its long-ago-absorbed upstart competitor the American Football League would love to know how the real Lou Saban coached from beyond.

That real Lou Saban, as Deadspin couldn’t wait to remind anyone caring, coached in both American pro football leagues and in college football for a very long time. But not past 2002, after a decade of working at far lower than Division I programs.

The president who once denounced the late Sen. John McCain for having been captured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War (“I like people who weren’t captured”) and makes a fetish of “winning” (without stopping to think that one man’s “winning” is another’s self-immolation) chose quite a winner to conflate with Alabama’s incumbent football coach.

Saban, who may or may not be a second or more distant cousin to Nick, was a charter coach of the Boston Patriots, when the AFL was born in 1960. From there he enjoyed a sixteen-season career coaching in the AFL and—when his Denver Broncos moved with the merger—the NFL. He had three first-place finishes (coaching the Buffalo Bills, 1963-65) and two AFL championships. And that’s all, folks.

He had six winning seasons in sixteen coaching the pros. His final record as a pro football coach is 95-99-7. Except for his back-to-back AFL championships, Saban never led his teams past a single playoff win. He did get to return to the Bills in 1972, coaching the teams fabled for O.J. Simpson and the Electric Company offensive line, but they never got past second place or a single playoff loss, either. He resigned after a 2-3 start in 1976 and never coached in the NFL again.

But he did return to the college coaching lines, which he’d visited once in the middle of his pro coaching life (University of Maryland: 4-6 in 1966), and where his coaching career began for a single season in 1956. (Northwestern University: 0-8.) He coached the University of Miami to back-to-back losing seasons (1977-78) and Army (1979) to one losing season. His complete coaching record at the major schools: 15-35-2.

Saban left Miami in the middle of a row over three freshman players attacking a Jewish student in yarmulke while he walked toward a campus religious service. They carried him to Lake Osceola in the middle of the campus and threw him in. Having been off campus when the attack happened, Saban returned to learn of it and say, according to Bruce Feldman’s history of Miami football, “Getting thrown in the lake? Sounds like fun to me.”

After he left Army, Saban took a brief, curious career turn. He became one of George Steinbrenner’s “baseball people,” doing Steinbrenner (a personal friend) a favour and becoming president of the New York Yankees for 1981-82. Even allowing that Steinbrenner did love football, engaging a football lifer as a baseball president seemed along the line of hiring a furniture designer to develop vacuum cleaners.

If Saban had anything to say about some of the turmoil around those Yankees, there seems little enough record of it:

* Steinbrenner fired first-time manager Gene Michael in 1981, after Michael challenged The Boss to knock it off with the constant threats. Steinbrenner’s bid to mollify The Stick became a classic of Yankee panky: Why would you want to stay manager and be second-guessed by me when you can come up into the front office and be one of the second guessers?

* Steinbrenner burned through three managers in 1982: Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon (who’d picked up Billy Martin’s pieces and led the Yankees to a World Series championship in 1978), Michael again, then Clyde King.

* Steinbrenner hired former Olympic hurdler Harrison Dilliard to help turn the Yankees into a speed team, an idea so hilarious as it was accompanied by continuous running drills in spring training that wags began calling the Yankees “the Bronx Burners.” (The experiment lived only slightly longer than some Yankee managers kept their jobs.)

The man who thought it sounded like fun for three of his Miami players to dunk a Jewish student in Lake Osceloa isn’t on record anywhere that I know of suggesting what fun Steinbrenner’s King of Hearts act in the south Bronx must have been for those on the wrong end of His Majesty’s scepter.

Lou Saban died at 87 in 2009, two years after Alabama hired Nick. He might not have had a real reputation as a long-term winner but he did have one as a teacher. He was also in no position to be the direct beneficiary of  Tuberville’s constant seawalling of the Crimson Tide. Alabama isn’t exactly renowned for hiring octogenarian head coaches. Nick Saban, on the other hand, has a long-term winning reputation in college football: a 248-65 record; three Bowl Championship Series wins; and, ten bowl game wins otherwise.

Deadspin offers the charitable suggestion that Trump might have conflated Saban with Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coaching legend. Careful with that axe, Eugene: In some portions of the South, confusing or conflating a Crimson Tide coach with some Hoosier coach can provoke the same kind of tavern debate (if not brawl) as could be provoked in the northeast, formerly,  if you inadvertently confused or conflated Mookie Betts with Mookie Wilson.

Trump’s sports record is dubious at best, shall we say. When he hasn’t beaten his gums about kneeling National Anthem protesters (a subject for another time, for now), he’s been a football owner (in the failed United States Football League some say he destroyed in the first place), a less-than-knowledgeable advocate (speaking politely) of Pete Rose’s reinstatement to baseball and election to the Hall of Fame, and a public critic, equally less than knowledgeable, of Maximum Security’s rightful disqualification in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

With an expert like that on his side, I’m not entirely sure that Tuberville—whose own college football coaching career was impressive enough (159-99 record; seven bowl wins)—needs adversaries.

The haunted Hideki Irabu

2020-04-22 HidekiIrabu

Hideki Irabu, too haunted to succeed—or live.

It took an unusual young man to forgive one of George Steinbrenner’s ugliest insults by giving The Boss a slightly unusual birthday present a few months later. If only Hideki Irabu’s sense of humour could have saved him from the lifelong haunting that finally ended in his 2011 suicide.

In a spring 1999 exhibition game, the righthanded pitcher failed to cover first base adequately on an infield play, and Steinbrenner denounced him as a “fat, pus-sy toad.” You don’t need me to tell you how that looked in cold print with the hyphen removed.

What you didn’t know, unless you read a jarring 2017 profile by Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Reiter, is that Irabu got a little good natured revenge a few months later. He sent Steinbrenner a birthday present: a large, mechanical toad delivering a rather pronounced ribbit when you punched a button. According to Reiter, The Boss appreciated it enough to keep it in his office for the rest of his life. (Steinbrenner died a year before Irabu’s suicide.)

Twenty years before Reiter’s profile, and 23 years ago today, the Yankees made a deal with the Padres to bring Irabu to the Bronx. The Yankees thought they were getting the anomalous “Japanese Nolan Ryan,” who threw white heat in contrast to most Japanese pitchers living purely on finesse. Neither the Yankees nor anybody else thought they were getting a walking, haunted, overly self-critical and self-analytical complexity who’d end up a suicide at 42.

A pitching star in Japan who chafed at the Japanese game’s continuing reserve system, who wanted only to decide his own future after a decade pitching in the Japan Pacific League, Irabu—whose purchase by the Padres roiled other American major league teams who wanted a shot at bidding for him—stood fast in his wish to play for nobody but the Yankees.

“Hideki and his agent are free to do and say whatever they want,” said then-Padres president Larry Lucchino, “but we will march ahead at our own pace.” Irabu and his agent Don Nomura said, “Company, halt!” Then, the Padres blinked. They sent Irabu, Jackie Boxobolts, and Jerry McJerryrig to the Yankees for Richie Rinkydink, Randy Matchbox, and three million bones.

That led to the creation of the posting system that has since allowed Japanese players without the required nine years for free agency to ask their teams to post them for bidding by MLB teams. Making Irabu a kind-of Nippon Professional Baseball equivalent to Curt Flood in the American major leagues.

But Irabu isn’t remembered that way half as often as he’s remembered for being the Japanese pitching virtuoso who self-dismantled during and after tortuous Show career. Even before he became an NPB fixture, Irabu’s was a life about which “complicated” doesn’t begin to fit.

Irabu didn’t insist on becoming a Yankee solely because he knew and respected the team’s history and larger-than-life image: as Reiter revealed, he believed that if he could succeed in a Yankee uniform his father—an American Air Force meteorologist, Steve Thompson, stationed in Okinawa, who’d met and dated a Japanese waitress and learned of his son when receiving word while in Vietnam—would have to find him.

Irabu’s mother birthed and raised him in Japan and, after marrying an Osakan restauranteur, told her son he’d been sired by an American who’d only seen him once after his birth. Only decades later would Irabu learn Thompson’s letters to his mother never reached them because they’d moved onward while Thompson was still in Vietnam.

Irabu’s mixed heritage, which happened to make him larger than other children as well as giving him brown hair and rounder eyes, didn’t go over well with other Japanese children who bullied him mercilessly. To Irabu, as Reiter revealed, baseball saved him from a life in the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, “which always found a way to use large, lost young men.”

His pitching talent made him the NPB’s top pitcher by 1997 at age 28. When Irabu insisted on having a say in his own American future and out-lasted the Padres into trading him to the Yankees, the Japanese media and his Japanese teammates accused him of disrespect. That was almost nothing compared to what hit the reserved righthander whose bulk hoisted a pair of sad-looking eyes but a smile that looked as though flashing it meant he’d defied someone a little too cheerfully.

When he arrived in New York, then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped shove curiosity and intrigue into hyperdrive hype. Giuliani presented Irabu a Tiffany apple and called his arrival symbolic of the American immigrant experience as a whole but that experience which often began in New York itself.

Irabu probably had no clue that American politicians were at least as talented as baseball people in forging unrealistic expectation.  When the pol in question was also the most unapologetically visible Yankee fan this side of George Constanza, Irabu would have had a better shot at getting away with the taking of Pelham 1-2-3—stark raving naked.

“Lay that upon the Japanese Nolan Ryan,” I wrote after Irabu’s 2011 suicide, “and anything short of a perfect game to open would have been considered a let down, if not the second coming of Pearl Harbour.”

The day after Guiliani handed him the Tiffany apple Irabu struck nine Tigers out in six-and-two-thirds. But he finished 1997, during which he had a turn in the minors, with a 7.09 ERA. The following spring he was considered “an out-of-shape bust,” as Reiter recalled it, nowhere more jarringly than in a Seinfeld series finale scene in which uber-fan Constanza bellowed, “How could you give 12 million dollars to Hideki Irabu?”

What nobody really knew was that Irabu’s surliness with the press and contrasting amiability in his clubhouse—upon his death, assorted teammates remembered his pleasantry and humour—disguised a still-young man still searching for a real home.

His battles with the Japanese press may have stemmed in part from being grilled, broiled, and basted by a press representing a home where he never felt accepted; his sense that America would never really accept him, either, was only partially thanks to the language barrier.

As a pitcher, as Reiter gleaned, Irabu was a constant self-questioner. The real source of his American lack of success probably rooted in his habit of constant change, from his exercise routines to his pitches and mechanics, even after his best outings. He also turned out to have a pronounced spiritual side, asking those few closest to him about faith and religion.

Reiter wrote that those few who were close to him knew what he really sought: a father figure and a place to belong. He thought he’d found the former in people like his agent Nomura, his translator George Rose, his fellow Yankee pitchers David Cone and David Wells, and even Steinbrenner; hence, the mechanical toad as the birthday present. The latter was even more tough. “There wasn’t a home for him,” Nomura told Reiter. “It’s almost like he was always at the visitors’ ballpark.

“There were so many different velocities—87, 89, 84, 95, 97,” Cone told Reiter about Irabu’s ability. “He was a big guy, strong, and you’d heard about the power—but it wasn’t all power. He seemed to have finesse as well . . . The day he pitched, we thought, Wow, if he’s on, he’s going to win the game for us. He could dominate an opposing lineup. That’s the way we saw him.”

Irabu was actually named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month twice, for May 1998 (he had a 1.44 ERA that month) and for July 1999. (4-0 with a 2.64 ERA.) The talent was clearly in place. (“When he was into it,” remembered longtime Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, “he threw the nastiest pitches in the league.”) It belonged to a still-young man who fought what proved an unwinnable war with himself.

Then Thompson finally sent his mother a note in spring 1999 and, after she revealed it to him, Irabu agreed to meet him. Though discovering they had much in common—including a pronounced taste for self-medicating through alcohol and a chain-smoking habit (Irabu was known to smoke half a cigarette between innings during his starts), and an equally pronounced stubbornness as children—Irabu couldn’t keep the connection.

Irabu accepted it when Thompson told him of those old, unanswered letters, but father and son couldn’t bond otherwise. A too-thick language wall, too much time past. “Irabu realized,” Reiter wrote, “that just as Thompson didn’t want anything from him, he didn’t want anything from Thompson.”

Thompson died of cancer at 81, five years after the suicide of the son he barely knew. Reiter wrote no one feeling remorse over Irabu’s suicide felt it deeper than Thompson did. His wife revealed to Reiter that he’d made and kept a photo album full of pictures of Irabu on the mound.

Two “uninspiring” seasons following a trade to the Montreal Expos, a brief comeback as a closer with the Rangers, a better comeback in the NPB a year after that, then a surprising two years’ trying in the American independent leagues, Irabu realised that baseball had given him up.

So did he. Whoever he really was.

The lawyer who worked with Nomura, Jean Afterman, told Reiter that Irabu “was fascinated by life. He was a kid philosophy major. He had a lot of questions about life. He had a lot of curiosity. He had a lot of, as we would say in this country, things to work out.”

When his professional baseball life finally ended, Reiter wrote, Irabu became obsessed with one thing despite trying a couple of businesses in southern California: baseball. He also sank further into depression, his former merely binge drinking becoming continuous and leading to a pair of unseemly arrests, as did his use of assorted antidepressants.

After his wife gathered their daughters and left him—they’d “become acculturated to American life,” the New York Times wrote, in ways he couldn’t and didn’t—Irabu seemed to lose whatever taste for life remained to him. “In the last year of his life, Irabu’s few remaining friends suspected that he was heavily medicated,” Reiter wrote.

The light had gone out of his eyes, they say. A rec-league teammate told police that Irabu had been despondent at a practice four days before his death—”I don’t want to live anymore,” he’d said—and he hadn’t been seen since the day after that. But no one thought to check on him until it was far too late.

A post-mortem search of his home turned up half a bottle of Paxil and two Ativan pills, the latter an antidepressant that’s believed tied to suicidal tendencies and even more dangerous when mixed with Irabu’s favourite self-medication, alcohol. His toxicology report showed he had three times the legal driving limit of alcohol in his system and Ativan in his liver when he hanged himself.

NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra wonders what if anything might have been different if Irabu had stayed with the Padres and not forced his trade to the Yankees despite its pioneering stature. Reiter wrote that tragedies aren’t as simple as toxicology reports, unexamined death wishes, or self-compromised talent.

They’re often deeper than even the pitcher who didn’t ask for the hype he was hit with and couldn’t live up to. The pitcher who spent his life seeking what was robbed from him originally. The pitcher who wanted one thing that the country where he grew up and first throve refused him but too much past denied him in the country he adopted.

More than anything or anyone, more than even the people who hyped him and then dismissed him when he couldn’t live up to it, he wanted and needed to know who Hideki Irabu really was.