Hideo Nomo (野茂 英雄 Nomo Hideo?, born August 31, 1968 in Minato-ku, Osaka) is a Japanese former right-handed pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball. He achieved early success in Japan, where he played with the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1990 to 1994. He then exploited a loophole to free himself from his Japanese contract and became the first Japanese-born Japanese major leaguer to permanently relocate to Major League Baseball in the United States. His successful debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 is often credited with paving the road for the subsequent "wave" of Japanese players entering Major League Baseball.
Nomo pitched over the span of 13 seasons in the American major leagues with 8 different teams, before retiring in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He twice led the league in strikeouts and also threw two no-hitters (to date the only Japanese pitcher to throw even one).
Success in Japan Edit
Nomo was on the silver medal winning Japanese baseball team at the 1988 Olympics, and the Kintetsu Buffaloes drafted him in 1989. Nomo debuted with them in 1990 and was an immediate success, going 18–8 but more impressively striking out 287 hitters in just 235 innings. The strikeout numbers are attributed to his unorthodox wind-up, where he turns his back to the hitter, raises his pivot leg, and freezes for a second before throwing. The windup gave him the nickname "Tornado". In his first four seasons, Nomo was as consistent, and consistently good, as any pitcher in Japanese baseball, winning 17 or 18 games each year. His fifth season in 1994 was marred by a shoulder injury and only netted him eight wins. Nomo was famous for his forkball which was unpredictable for hitters and catchers alike.
Moving to the Major Leagues Edit
Nomo had become one of the most popular baseball players in Japan but after the 1994 season, Nomo got into a contract dispute with team management. The Buffaloes rebuffed Nomo's demands to have a contract agent and multi-year contract. Instead of working things out with the Buffaloes, Nomo and his agent, Don Nomura, "exploited a loophole in the agreement between Japanese baseball and the major leagues: if a player retired, he was free to play for whomever he wished." This led to him heading to the U.S., where in February of 1995, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him.
Nomo made his U.S. pro baseball debut with the Bakersfield Blaze on April 27, 1995, against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Placed on a 90-pitch limit, and throwing mainly fastballs, Nomo pitched 5⅓ innings, taking the 2–1 loss against the Quakes. Despite this loss, and after a month in the minors, necessitated by a season shortened by a player's strike, he became the first Japanese-born Japanese Leaguer since Masanori Murakami in 1965, to appear in a major league game on May 2. He was also the first Japanese-born player to relocated permanently to the American major leagues, as Murakami played only two seasons with the San Francisco Giants and then returned to the Japanese major leagues for the remainder of his career. The pressure on Nomo would be tremendous, and Japanese media and fans appeared in large numbers in games he started. Nomo's games were regularly broadcast live to Japan, despite the fact most people would be waking up when he started games.
Career in the United StatesEdit
The tornado delivery that baffled batters in Japan had the same effect on major league hitters, and he led the league in strikeouts (while finishing second in walks) and was second with a 2.54 ERA. He also started that year's All-Star Game, striking out three of the six batters he faced. But he only barely won NL Rookie of the Year honors that year over future MVP Chipper Jones, as many voters felt that his Japanese success made him anything but a rookie, although by major league rules he was one. Nomo had another fine season in 1996 which was capped by a no-hitter thrown on September 17 in the unlikeliest of places, Denver's Coors Field, a park notoriously known as being a hitters' park because of its high elevation and lack of foul territory. Nomo remains the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter at Coors Field. He is also the last Dodger to throw a no-hitter. 
Nomo also found commercial success in America. Nomo had a signature sneaker, called the Air Max Nomo, produced by Nike in 1996. Also, he appeared on a Segata Sanshiro commercial for the Sega Saturn in 1997.
As batters caught on to his delivery, his effectiveness waned a bit in 1997, although he still went 14–12, joining Dwight Gooden as the only other pitcher to strike out at least 200 batters in each of his first three seasons.
Nomo pitched poorly in 1998, starting the season 2–7 and was dealt to the New York Mets. He was not much better and got released. In 1999, he signed with the Chicago Cubs and made three starts for their Triple-A minor league team before refusing to make further starts in the minors, and got a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he went 12–8 with a 4.54 ERA. He reached the 1,000 strikeout mark in 1999, the third fastest in major league history. The Brewers waived him after contract issues and the Philadelphia Phillies claimed him, then granted him free agency only 24 hours later after more contract issues. Finally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 2000, he went 8–12 with a 4.74 ERA and was again released.
Nomo signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2001 and started the season in spectacular fashion, throwing his second no-hitter in his Sox debut, on April 4, against the Baltimore Orioles, walking three and striking out 11 in the first no-hitter in the 10-year history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and becoming just the fourth player in baseball history to have thrown a no-hitter in both leagues (joining Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Nolan Ryan). It is the earliest, calendar-wise, that a Major League Baseball no-hitter has been pitched. Nomo also led the league in strikeouts for the first time since his first season in MLB.
A free agent after the end of the year, Nomo returned to the Dodgers, in 2002, and ended up having his best season since 1996, finished with a 16–6, 193 K, and 3.39 ERA. The following year, he had another great season, going 16–13 with 177 K and a 3.09 ERA. During September 2003, however, he began showing signs of injury and fatigue.
Nomo began to struggle again in 2004. After undergoing shoulder surgery in October 2003, he was benched after going 4–11 with an 8.25 ERA for the Dodgers (the worst ERA in the history of baseball for a player with at least 15 decisions in a season).
Before the start of spring training for 2005, he signed a $800,000 contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The contract also included a $700,000 incentive that kicked in if Nomo started 20 games. The stipulation was allegedly included because Devil Rays upper management was unsure if Nomo had fully recovered from his injury. After a poor start in which he posted a 7.24 ERA, he was released on July 25. Coincidentally or not, this was two days before he was slated to make his twentieth major league start. On July 27, Nomo was picked up off waivers by the New York Yankees, who signed him to a minor league contract, but never recalled him. Nomo was signed to a minor league contract by the Chicago White Sox during spring training in 2006 to play for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights of the International League, but the White Sox released him on June 7 of that year.
In 2007, Nomo signed on with the Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League, managed by his former catcher, Carlos Hernández. His participation in the Venezuelan league was viewed as a first step toward an eventual Major League comeback. He made his debut on October 20, 2007, against Tiburones de La Guaira. Nomo pitched one inning, allowing one hit and no runs.
On January 4, 2008, Nomo signed a minor league contract for 2008 with the Kansas City Royals. If added to the roster Nomo would get a $600,000 one-year contract and have the chance to earn $100,000 in performance bonuses. On April 5, his contract was bought by the Royals and was added to the 25-man roster. On 10 April 2008, Nomo made his first major league appearance since 2005. He faced the New York Yankees in relief. He was brought in to start the seventh inning of a game while the Yankees were leading 4-1. Nomo loaded the bases, but was able to retire his native countryman, Hideki Matsui to strand all three runners. However, he later surrendered back-to-back homers to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in the ninth inning. On April 20, Nomo was designated for assignment. The Royals released him on April 29, 2008. On July 17, 2008, Nomo officially announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
Nomo has 123 wins in the Major Leagues and 78 in Japan, winning his 200th overall game on June 15, 2005. Nomo's success helped inspire other stars from Japan such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui to come over to the States as well.
During his last year in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1994, Nomo was involved in an interesting season opener against the Seibu Lions. After four innings, Nomo had a stunning 11 strikeouts and had allowed no hits. The game remained scoreless after eight innings, but the Buffaloes finally gave Nomo a lead in the top of the ninth. With one out and a man on second, the Lions decided to intentionally walk Ralph Bryant and the next batter connected for a three-run homer off starter Kaku Taigen, putting Nomo within three outs of a no hitter. However, the Lions quickly responded in the bottom of the ninth with a leadoff double and Nomo proceeded to walk the next batter. Things only became worse when the second baseman committed an error on a potential double play ball. With the bases loaded and no outs, Ito Tsutomu, the only Lions player whom Nomo had not struck out in the game, came to the plate. Nomo was pulled from the game and Akahori Motoyuki was brought in to close out the game. Ito drilled the ball to the left for a walk-off grand slam. The game is considered by some to be the most devastating loss of Nomo's career.
He won the 1996 ESPY Award for Breakthrough Athlete.
Pop culture referencesEdit
- ↑ Nomo retires from baseball | dodgers.com: News
- ↑ http://www.kansascity.com/sports/royals/story/430041.html
- ↑ Nomo designated for assignment
Further reading Edit
- Fagen, Herb. Nomo: The Inside Story on Baseball's Hottest Sensation. Friday Harbor, Wash.: Turtleback Books, 1996. ISBN 0-606-09699-X, ISBN 0-451-18884-5.
- Rodman, Edmon J. Nomo: The Tornado Who Took America by Storm. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1996. ISBN 1-56565-394-7.
See also Edit
- List of Major League Baseball strikeout champions
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- List of Major League Baseball no-hitters
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major league career statistics
- Nomo Baseball club
- "The Ichiro Paradox", S.L. Price, TIME magazine, July 8, 2002