Hideki Irabu died yesterday. His death is rumored to have been a suicide. He was one of the first Japanese stars to come to the States seeking to replicate the success he had as a pitcher in his home country. In his first major league start, he struck out 4 of the first 6 batters he faced. He was dubbed the Japanese Nolan Ryan, and on that night in the Bronx, he dazzled. That debut ended up being the best performance of his short Yankee tenure. His MLB career was promise unfulfilled.
In each obituary for Irabu that I read, one incident in his career is consistently mentioned, and it was an incident not of his making. During an exhibition game in spring training, Irabu was slow to cover first base on a ground ball, a transgression so severe, that Yankee owner told the press that Irabu was a “fat…toad”. Irabu would from that day forward be part-time Yankee pitcher and full-time Fat Toad. This must have done wonders for the self-image of a man transplanted from his native country into the hell fires of the NYC media.
I do not blame George Steinbrenner’s emotional rantings for Irabu’s decision to take his own life. Such a final decision involves the work of many inner demons that thankfully most of us will never have to face. I do not, however, condone Steinbrenner’s bullying tactics against this man, or minimizes its’ contribution to Irabu’s self-doubts. The Boss’s school yard taunts at his players are legendary (who could forget “Mr. May”, and his verbal jousts with Reggie Jackson?), and you may believe that for the millions his high profile players are paid, he was entitled to insult and demean them publicly. Now that Steinbrenner is gone, we view his verbal assaults as evidence of a man passionate about winning, not as evidence of a small man who hurt others to get what he wanted. When all is said and done, Steinbrenner was a bully to Hideki Irabu, and that’s wrong.
Marcus Bachmann, the husband and official campaign advisor for his wife, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, has been victimized recently on the talk show circuit and the Internet with accusations that he is secretly gay. His stubborn insistence that homosexuality is a choice that can be “prayed away” is twisted into the psychological conclusion that he “doth protest too much.” His speech patterns, his shopping habits, and his dance behaviors are dissected as proof that he is a gay man trapped in a heterosexual relationship. Google the name Marcus ‘Bachmann’, and you’ll see the digital character assassination first hand.
Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and others have ridiculed Mr. Bachmann on air for his hypocrisy on the gay issue, given their assumption that Bachmann himself must be gay. While I have defended both of these comedians in the past, I cannot defend them here. They, and all those who mock Mr. Bachmann’s personality in the public square, are bullies. Worse, they are hypocrites who speak out against the bullying of others for a private choice and yet bully this man because they disagree with his political views (at least they disagree with his wife’s political views, his views by association).
Stewart and Maher would no doubt defend their tactics as fair, given that Mr. Bachmann is a senior advisor to a presidential contender and therefore, fair game. Mr. Bachmann, they would contend, is the hypocrite, lashing out at homosexuals as “barbarians” when he himself is a closeted gay. That would be one embarrassing argument made up of questionable conclusions. A bully is a bully, and in my view, those doing the public insulting demean only themselves. Comedy is not an immunity idol from hate speech.
Let’s lighten up on the bullying, whether it be shouting down opponents as “pinheads”, dubbing people “The Worst Person in the World”, calling them “fat toads”, or questioning their sexuality under the false protection of satire. It’s not necessary, and I don’t tolerate that kind of bullying from my kids. We should not tolerate from public figures towards others, either.
Respecting the lines of common decency is not an infringement on First Amendment rights. It’s just the right thing to do.
Rest in peace, Typhoon Irabu.