Monday, December 9, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Right Handed Pitcher Hideo Nomo

The Dodgers were no strangers to great pitching (like Koufax), and no strangers to phenoms (like Fernandomania). With Hideo Nomo, they once again found a player that elevated the game. Nomo came to the Los Angeles Dodgers as just the second Japanese-born player in MLB history. And unlike Masanori Murakami in the 1960s, Nomo came to the United States with no contractual restrictions. Nomo was here to stay.

Nomo was the clear favorite for National League Rookie of the Year, and not just because he played for the Dodgers. Following in the footsteps of Karros, Piazza, and Mondesi, Nomo won Rookie of the Year honors leading the National League in Strikeouts and Shutouts. He broke the Dodger rookie record for Ks, and his 11.1 K/9 rate broke Sandy Koufax's team record. The only factor working against him for the award was the debate over whether or not the 26 year old was truly a "rookie" having excelled for years in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.

In Japan, he had been passed over in the 1988 NPB draft due to "poor control," but he would perfect his signature forkball in the Industrial League in Japan, representing Nippon Steel in Osaka. His performance earned him a spot on Team Japan in the 1988 Olympic games, which finally drew the attention of NPB clubs.
Nomo debuted in professional ball in 1990, leading the league in Strikeouts with 287. Over his 5 seasons in the NPB with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Nomo had 13 shutouts and struck out over 1200 batters in just over 1000 innings pitched. In 1994, Nomo was hurt for much of the year, and pitching for a new coach who believed in pitching through pain. The new coach was an All-Time Great NPB pitcher who commanded a great deal of respect. At the same time, Nomo was eagerly hoping to prove his abilities against a new set of challenges. After consulting with agents in the United States, Nomo opted to retire from the NPB at the age of 26. The rules of the league allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent for any other league. Kintetsu would retain his rights if he returned to pitching in the NPB.

The Dodgers would wring all they could from Nomo's arm, having him toss an average of 200+ innings in his first 4 seasons. Nomo would not reach the dizzying heights of his rookie campaign again, but he would continue to strike out batters at a blistering clip. He joined Dwight Gooden as the only two MLB pitchers to strike out 200+ batters in each of his first 3 seasons. In 1996, Nomo made history again, tossing a no-hitter at Coors Field (this is before the humidor was installed, by the way.). He is still the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter in the rare air of Colorado.

As a hitter? Well, no one would confuse him for Shohei Ohtani, though he would find some power later in his career. He would hit his first MLB home run in 1998, just months before being traded to the New York Mets.

Nomo would bounce around the league after leaving the Dodgers, but he would continue his assault on the all-time strikeout leaderboard. In 1999, Nomo reached 1,000 career strikeouts. He was 3rd fastest to reach the milestone in MLB history. Nomo would also lead the AL in Ks in 2001 pitching for the Red Sox. He would also toss another no hitter, becoming just the 4th pitcher to toss a no-hitter in both leagues. The 2001 No-hitter came at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and he is the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter at that ballpark, too!

Nomo would return to LA beginning in 2002, and he would pitch for 3 more seasons in Southern Califonia. His career in a Dodgers' uniform included an 81-66 record and 1,200 Ks in 1,217 innings.

After being becoming a free agent before the 2005 season, Nomo signed with Tampa Bay and had a less than Nomo-like season, and he was released after 19 starts. That number is significant, as Nomo was due an additional $700,000 if he made 20 starts for the Rays. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal and he finished out the year at their AAA affiliate. He would spend 2006 with the White Sox organization, but did not get a call-up.

His career appeared to be over, but he would appear in the Venezuelan Winter League pitching for his former catcher, now manager Carlos Hernandez. He signed a minor league deal in 2008 with Kansas City, and would make 3 relief appearances for the Royals before being designated for assignment. He would retire officially in July of 2008, with over 200 victories combined between the NPB and MLB. He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

What are your favorite Hideo Nomo stories?


  1. I was a big fan of Nomo is the '90s. I hoarded his cards and bought a blue Dodgers jersey with Nomo's #16 at a sports memorabilia store in my nearby mall. The no-hitter he pitched at Coors Field really stands out but it was nice to see him pitch for Boston, too.

  2. One of my favorite guys to collect. He has a ton of different rookie cards, I'm still trying to land them all.

  3. I just woke up, so it's a little too early to remember any specific stories about Nomo. But I did enjoy watching his highlights... and of course finding his cards back in his rookie year.

  4. I remember staying up late to watch the no-hitter against Baltimore, and having to be quiet so as not to wake up my family.

  5. I definitely remember his windup and the swirl surrounding his entrance into MLB!

  6. I was pretty excited about nomo in 95. I saw him beat tom glavine 1-0 on opening day in 96 and he was dominant. Saw him again a couple of times after that in 98 and he had definitely lost some zip.