Hideki Irabu was a flame-throwing phenom for the Lotte Orions and then Chiba Lotte Marines. He was the first Japanese pitcher to ever throw a fastball clocked at 99 MPH, and he knew where it was going too…well, most of the time, at least! He was the Central League-leader in wins and strikeouts in 1994, ERA and strikeouts in 1995, and ERA in 1996. All of that success earned him a ticket to New York to play for the Yankees. While his MLB career didn’t quite live up to the hype, it turns out that his personal situation was even more complicated than it was known to be by the public. Tragically, Irabu died by suicide in 2011. Fore more on Irabu’s life, check out this article from Sports Illustrated.
The Japanese card in this lot came out in ’95, when Irabu was at the top of his game. He had just earned a league-leading 15 wins for the Marines in the previous year while leading the league in strikeouts. The American (Bowman) cards came out in 1997, right after he signed with the Yankees.