I’ve been preparing a talk that I will give next weekend at a symposium on multiculturalism at Osaka University. I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve done in order to help my children feel accepted and normal in the world, such as introducing them to other mixed race and differently-abled children, providing them with books and dolls that reflected themselves, and, in the case of my son, sending him to a school where English is used. One thing I did not think to mention, mostly because it seems obvious to me, is the importance of affection and acceptance at home. I’m sure that my children feel loved. They know that they are adored, and that we are not ashamed of them in any way.
Hideki Irabu didn’t grow up with those same assurances. He was born to an Okinawan woman and an American, who apparently left no forwarding address. In interviews, he was mostly reluctant to talk about his roots, but he told one sportswriter that he had aspired to go to the Major Leagues so he could attract the attention of his father. By all accounts, he never met the guy, even after he joined the Yankees. Bullied as a boy in Japan, as an adult, he was booed by fans from his father’s country. He returned to Osaka, declared that Japan was best after all, and led the Hanshin Tigers to a championship.
Bobby Valentine once called him “the Nolan Ryan of Asia.”
A couple of years ago, his career coming to a close, he played here in the Shikoku Island League.
The day before yesterday, he was found dead in his home in Los Angeles, an apparent suicide.
“Because of his background, Hideki never had a chance to find out who he was, unlike other Japanese who came to the States. He didn’t have a home or an identity. And I think that was the root of all his trouble…” Jean Afterman, a lawyer for the Yankees was quoted as saying in The Samurai Way of Baseball.
What if his mixed heritage had been celebrated? What if, in his home, he had been adored?