Hideo Nomo

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Hideo Nomo

Hideo Nomo (野茂 英雄)
(The Tornado)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 2", Weight 210 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

In 1995, pitcher Hideo Nomo became the second Japanese to play in the major leagues (Masanori Murakami was the first). He had been a star in Nippon Pro Baseball and was an immediate hit with the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 13-6 as a rookie in the USA, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award and leading the league in strikeouts. His success opened the door for a large number of other Japanese players to play in Major League Baseball.

Nomo was 0-3 with a 4.24 ERA in the 1988 Baseball World Cup for Japan, striking out 17 in 17 innings. He lost to Puerto Rico once and twice to the Cuban national team. He contained Cuba for 7 innings in the semifinals but faded away in the 8th and took the defeat. He was a member of the Japanese team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He also pitched for Japan in the 1989 Asian Championship and 1989 Intercontinental Cup. Eight teams selected Nomo in the first round of the 1989 NPB draft, which set a NPB draft record, and the Kintetsu Buffaloes won the lottery. In the Japanese Pacific League, he pitched from 1990 to 1994 for the Buffaloes, after being a first round choice in the 1989 Japanese draft, leading the league in wins and strikeouts each of his first four seasons. He won a Pitcher's Triple Crown in the Pacific League in 1990, when he went 18-8, 2.91 with 287 strikeouts. He made a clean sweep of postseason awards, being named the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the Pacific League and the Sawamura Award winner. His record over the following three seasons was 17-11, 3.05 in 1991, 18-8, 2.66 in 1992 and 17-12, 3.70 in 1993. In 1994, he fell back to 8-7, 3.63. By that time, he felt he had accomplished everything he could in Japan and wanted to try his luck in the United States, but his team would not release him. He then found a loophole in the rules, declaring himself retired from Japanese baseball, and looked for a contract as a free agent with a Major League team. The Los Angeles Dodgers took the bait, as they were beginning to look for players in the Far East (they had signed Korean pitcher Chan Ho Park a year earlier). Nomo signed with the Dodgers on February 8, 1995. The 1994 strike was still unresolved at that time, and Nomo was sent to the Bakersfield Blaze of the Class-A California League to get some work in. He made one losing start, before making his debut with the Dodgers on May 2.

After his excellent rookie season in Los Angeles, he continued to pitch well for a time. In 1996, he went 16-11, 3.19, and pitched his first no-hitter on September 17th against Colorado. This first no-no is especially notable for its location: Coors Field. At the time, Coors Field was easily the most hitting-friendly ballpark in the major leagues, and Nomo's feat remains the only no-hitter ever pitched there; the opposing line-up he faced was also full of excellent hitters, making his feat the most impressive no-hitter ever thrown since 1901, according to researcher Gary Belleville's comparative study of no-hitters.. However, he had less success in the postseason. In the 1995 NLDS, he lost his only start against the Cincinnati Reds, giving up 5 runs in 5 innings as the Dodgers were swept; in the 1996 NLDS, he was chased by the Atlanta Braves after giving up 5 runs in 3 2/3 innings. He was charged with the loss in both starts, the only postseason appearances of his Major League career. In 1997, he was 14-12, but his ERA rose to 4.25, and his walks per nine innings ratio rose all the way up to a then-career-worst 5.4. He was worse at the beginning of the 1998 season, and the Dodgers designated him for assignment on June 1st. He was 2-7 at that point with an ERA of 5.05, had given up at least one run in all 12 outings, and had five starts which lasted five or fewer innings. His start on April 18th in Wrigley Field was particularly abysmal - two-thirds of an inning, 8 runs (7 earned), 3 hits, and 5 walks. His final start prior to his designation for assignment was on May 30th, and he lasted 3 2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds, allowed 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks. The Dodgers traded him to the New York Mets on June 4th with Brad Clontz for Greg McMichael and Dave Mlicki. He pitched marginally better for the Mets, putting up a record of 4-5, 4.82 in 17 games.

At that point, many thought that Nomo's career was over. The Mets released him in spring training of 1999 and the Chicago Cubs gave him a minor league contract. He did all right, putting up a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings for the AAA Iowa Cubs, but was released by mutual consent three weeks later when the Cubs were not prepared to bring him up to the majors. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 29th, made one solid start for the AA Huntsville Stars, was called up and suddenly found his groove again. He was 12-8, 4.54 in 28 games for the Brew Crew, striking out almost a batter an inning and showing some of his old stuff. But he couldn't come to an agreement on a longer-term contract with Milwaukee and was waived after the season; the Philadelphia Phillies picked him up, and also failing to reach a deal, let him become a free agent. Only the Detroit Tigers were willing to pay him as a premier pitcher in 2000, and as a result, he was named their Opening Day starter, making him the first Japanese pitcher in Major League history to receive the prestigious assignment. His performance during the season was mediocre, however - 8-12, 4.74 - and the Tigers let him go at the end of the year.

Nomo got back on track when he signed with the Boston Red Sox for 2001. On April 4th, he became just the fourth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both leagues when, in his Red Sox debut, he blanked the Orioles, fanning 11 along the way. At the time, it was the earliest no-hitter ever pitched, a record that held for over two decades until Ronel Blanco spun one on April 1st in 2024. He went 13-10 that year, with a 4.50 ERA - his lowest since 1997 - and an American League-leading 220 strikeouts. The Dodgers liked what they saw, and brought him back for a second go-round when he became a free agent at the end of the season. He continued to pitch well over the next two seasons, having an outstanding 2002, when he went 16-6, 3.29 with 193 Ks. That year, Nomo joined with Mac Suzuki and Hideki Irabu to purchase the Elmira Pioneers of the independent Northern League East. In 2003, he was 16-13, 3.09, the 6th best ERA in the National League. But the bottom fell out of his performance in 2004. He was 4-11, 8.25, in 18 hideous starts, was sent down to the minor leagues where he pitched no better, and the Dodgers showed no interest in bringing him back when his contract expired. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays but continued to pitch very poorly in 2005, going 5-8, 7.24. A lone bright spot was that his penultimate major league win, a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on June 27, was his 200th between Nippon Pro Baseball, where he had 78 in 5 seasons, and Major League Baseball; reaching that milestone made him a member of the Meikyukai. Tampa Bay released him on July 16, he was picked up by the New York Yankees but did not pitch for them in the majors even though he went 2-3, 3.62 in 7 starts for AAA Columbus. However, by the end of the year, he was 36 years old and not striking anyone out anymore. He signed on with the Chicago White Sox in spring training of 2006, made one start for Charlotte, then was released in June. It seemed that his career in the USA was over and that Hideo's last stop would be the Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan League.

In January 2008, Hideo Nomo made an unexpected comeback, being offered a spot with the Kansas City Royals, despite having not pitched in the major leagues since 2005. He pitched in his first game for the Royals on April 10, against the New York Yankees, but was only used in three games, giving up 9 runs, 4 walks, and 3 home runs in 4.1 innings against only 3 strikeouts before being released. That season, he donned an unusually high number for him, 91. (He had previously always worn numbers in the 10s, aside from his year in Detroit, when he wore 23.)

During his heyday, Nomo was known for his unusual pitching motion, "the tornado", that saw him whirl around, turning his back to the batter, before releasing the ball at an unpredictable spot. No other pitcher in the majors had a similar style, and it was very difficult for batters to time his pitches at first, especially as he had a varied repertoire. Thus, he piled up very good strikeout totals, even though he did not have a particularly outstanding fastball. He had to adjust his style in mid-career when he almost washed out of Major League Baseball, becoming more orthodox, but he always remained an outlier in his mechanics.

In his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame in 2014, he received only 6 votes (1.1%) and dropped off the ballot. On the other hand, he, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Koji Akiyama and Choichi Aida were voted to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame that year, as he and Sasaki became the first major leaguers to win induction (lesser ex-major leaguers like Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Masato Yoshii had gone one-and-out on the Japanese ballot). He joined Sadaharu Oh and Victor Starffin as the only first-ballot picks in history.

In 2016, he was hired by the San Diego Padres as a representative to increase the team's profile in the Pacific Rim.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 1995 NL Rookie of the Year Award
  • 1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
  • NL All-Star (1995)
  • 2-times League Strikeouts Leader (1995/NL & 2001/AL)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1995)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1996, 2002 & 2003)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1996, 1997, 2002 & 2003)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 4 (1995-1997 & 2001)

NL Rookie of the Year
1994 1995 1996
Raul Mondesi Hideo Nomo Todd Hollandsworth

Further Reading[edit]

  • Gary Belleville: "Who Threw the Greatest Regular Season No-Hitter since 1901?", in Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 50, Nr. 1 (Spring 2021), pp. 60-68.
  • Andrew Simon: "27 years ago, Nomo changed MLB forever: Difficult jump from Japan to Majors cleared way for other stars", mlb.com, February 10, 2022. [1]

Related Sites[edit]