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Born on August 31, 1968 in Osaka, Japan, Hideo Nomo (Hideo Nomo) played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays over the course of his 11 year career. Nomo broke into the bigs on May 2, 1995 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and put up a 2.54 ERA in 191.1 innings pitched in 1995, his rookie year.
There is some disagreement on what was Hideo Nomo's most productive season. Some believe that it was 1996, when he posted a 3.19 ERA, won 16 games and struck out 234 batters. However, others believe that it was 1995, when he posted a 2.54 ERA, won 13 games and struck out 236 batters.
Success in Japan
Hideo 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
Nomo had become one of the most popular baseball players in Japan but after the '94 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's parents begged for him to come home, and Nomo was soon disowned by family for "disgracing" them.
Hideo 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. The pressure on him 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. Nomo more than lived up to their expectations.
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 most voters felt that his Japanese success made him anything but a rookie, although by major league rules he was one. Nomo only dropped slightly in 1996 as he had another fine season, which was capped by a no-hitter thrown on September 17 in the unlikeliest of places, Denver's Coors Field, a park which was notoriously known as being a hitters' park because of its high elevation, low fences, semi-arid climate, and lack of foul territory. Nomo remains the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter at Coors Field.
As batters caught on to his delivery, his effectiveness waned somewhat in 1997, although he still went 14–12, and then crashed down on him in 1998 when he started the year 2–7 and earned a trade to the New York Mets, where he was not much better and got released. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1999 and made three starts for their AAA minor league team, refused further starts in the minor leagues, 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 to reach that mark in major league history. The Brewers waived him after contract issues. 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 released again.
Nomo signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2001 and had a decent season again, but it started off with a bang, as he threw 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 also was the first no-hitter by a Red Sox pitcher since Dave Morehead in 1965, and is also 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 American campaign. A free agent after the end of the year, Nomo returned to where it all began with the Dodgers in 2002, and ended up having his best season since 1996, when he finished with a 16–6, 193 K, and 3.39 ERA, finally regaining the form he brought from Japan. The following year he had another fine season, where he went 16–13, 177 K, and a low 3.09 ERA. During September 2003 he began showing signs of injury and fatigue.
However, 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 had a $700,000 incentive that was included 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. Reportedly, after a poor start in which he posted a 7.24 ERA, he was released on July 25. Coincidentally, this was two days before he was slated to make his twentieth major league start. He has said he would not pitch in Japan if he is not signed by another major-league team.
On July 27, Nomo was picked up off waivers by the New York Yankees, who signed him to a minor-league contract, but they never recalled Nomo from the minor leagues. Nomo was signed to a minor league contract by the Chicago White Sox during spring training in 2006 to play for the AAA Charlotte Knights of the International League. As of July 29, 2006, Nomo was not on the roster of any major or minor league team.
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 and things only became worse when the second baseman failed to make a throw for 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 walkoff grand slam. The game is considered by some to be the most devastating loss of Nomo's career.
Nomo established the "Hideo Nomo Club", a non-profit amateur baseball team in Sakai, Osaka, where he played for three years before his debut in Japanese professional baseball to help promote amateur baseball and to give young players opportunities.
- Signed as a non-drafted free agent by Los Angeles Dodgers (February 8, 1995).
- Traded by Los Angeles Dodgers with Brad Clontz to New York Mets in exchange for Greg McMichael and Dave Mlicki (June 4, 1998).
- Released by New York Mets (March 26, 1999).
- Signed by Chicago Cubs (April 2, 1999).
- Released by Chicago Cubs (April 23, 1999).
- Signed by Milwaukee Brewers (April 29, 1999).
- Claimed on waivers by Philadelphia Phillies from Milwaukee Brewers (October 28, 1999).
- Granted free agency (October 29, 1999).
- Signed by Detroit Tigers (January 21, 2000).
- Released by Detroit Tigers (November 2, 2000).
- Signed by Boston Red Sox (December 15, 2000).
- Granted free agency (November 5, 2001).
- Signed by Los Angeles Dodgers (December 21, 2001).
- Granted free agency (November 1, 2004).
- Signed by Tampa Bay Devil Rays (January 27, 2005).
- Released by Tampa Bay Devil Rays (July 16, 2005).
- Signed by New York Yankees (July 29, 2005).
- Granted free agency (October 15, 2005).
- Signed by Chicago White Sox (March 6, 2006).
- Released by Chicago White Sox (June 7, 2006).
- 1995 National League Rookie of the Year
- 1995 All Star game
- 1996 ESPY Awards Breakthrough Athlete
- Hideo's nickname is "The Tornado".
- Hideo appeared on a Segata Sanshiro commercial for the Sega Saturn in 1997.
- Hideo had a signature sneaker, called the Air Max Nomo, produced by Nike in 1996.