Don Nomura

From BR Bullpen

Don Katsuki Nomura (AKA Katsuaki Ito, born Donald Engel)

Don Nomura was the son of Alvin Engel and Yoshie Ito. His mother deserted the family when he was six years old. The mixed-"race" child of a broken family, Don had a hard time growing up in Japan. Educated in a Catholic school, he became an athletic star but was expelled for fighting and switched to Chofu High School in a suburb of Tokyo. Going to Cal Polytech in America for college, he continued to play baseball regularly. At age 21 he was asked by Japan to pick his nationality, as he could claim either American or Japanese citizenship. Despite his father's request, he chose Japan. He renamed himself Katsuaki Ito and joined the Yakult Swallows, not counting against the limit on foreign players. As his mother had married Katsuya Nomura, he changed his name again to Don Nomura; his mother was now known as Sachiyo Nomura. His stepbrother Katsunori Nomura later became a professional athlete as well.

Due to poor performance on the field, Nomura was released by Yakult a couple years later, never having made it off of the farm team. Don moved to Los Angeles, CA and worked as a scout, car cleaner, travel agent, janitor, clerk, flophouse manager and delivery man. Winning $40,000 by gambling in Las Vegas, NV, he began investing in real estate and made a good deal of money. He bought the Salinas Spurs in 1989; he was only the second Japanese native to own a pro baseball team in North America after Nagayoshi Nakamura. He used the team as a co-op, with players from all across the country and also from Japanese clubs.

Nomura became an agent to represent one of his Spurs players, Mac Suzuki, and helped him get a $1 million signing bonus from the Seattle Mariners. Don sold the Spurs in 1993 and they became the San Bernardino Spirit. Deciding to become an agent full-time, he decided to try to bring a Japanese player to Major League Baseball, something that had not been done for almost three decades. Working with Hideo Nomo, who was tired of his manager's rigorous arm-wrecking approach, and Arn Tellem, he found a loophole in the agreement between MLB and Nippon Pro Baseball that allowed retired players to come to the US to play. He convinced Nomo to "retire" and worked out a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Don's next star client was Hideki Irabu. Nomura helped arrange a deal between the New York Yankees and Chiba Lotte Marines, but the Yankees refused the Marine's offers in a trade and sent his rights to the San Diego Padres. When Irabu refused to go to San Diego, Chiba Lotte didn't want to take him back either. Nomura, continuing to bluster and make a mess of things, said that it was like Hideki was in a concentration camp, a quote that did not go over well with the Japanse-American community in the USA or with Japanese fans. Finally San Diego traded Irabu to New York after much legal wrangling. Another Nomura client at this time was Alfonso Soriano, a Hiroshima Carp farmhand who did not like the workouts in Japan. Nomura questioned the contract's legitimacy, but when this ploy failed, he convinced Soriano to also "retire" and join an American club.

At this time, Nomura was also working on Masato Yoshii, a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Yakult Swallows. He convinced Yoshii to leave the team to demand more money by claiming this would help the next generation. A salary war broke out and the Yomiuri Giants offered $9 million over 4 years for Yoshii, enough to set him for life and more than he was likely worth. Nomura demanded that his client ask for $4 million more plus special waivers to reduce his training regime. When Yomiuri understandably turned down these excessive demands, Masato went to the New York Mets for just $200,000, as Nomura's client wound up with far less money because of his extreme bargaining position and leave-no-quarter mentality.

In the process of the Nomo, Irabu, Soriano, Robinson Checo and Yoshii fiascos, Nomura became one of the most hated men in Japanese baseball and did not exactly endear himself to Americans, nor did his clients wind up with optimal deals always. On the other hand, he had helped bring Japanese players back to MLB to compete with the top players of most other countries and had made a lasting mark on the game. In 2012, he resurfaced as agent for Yu Darvish, one of the brightest NPB stars to come to the US.

Career Stats[edit]

1978 Yakult (2-gun) 8 14 1 0 1 0.071
1979 Yakult (2-gun) 13 19 3 0 1 0.158
1980 Yakult (2-gun) 31 49 11 0 3 0.224
1981 Yakult (2-gun) 16 20 3 0 2 0.150
Career Totals 68 102 18 0 7 0.176

Sources: The Meaning of Ichiro by Robert Whiting; stats are from here