O.K., so picture it: it’s 2 P.M. and I am just waking up (long night…). After wiping off my eyes and then reaching for my remote, I turn on my TV and flip over to ESPNews. Now, keep in mind that a large part of why I tune into ESPNews first thing every morning (or afternoon) is largely due to false hope. I mean, I tune in with the hopes that I’ll wake up one day and hear something like: “Dodgers Trade OF Juan Pierre To Chicago White Sox For The Corpses Of The 1919 Black Sox And The Teeth Of Charles Comiskey” or something like that. But I know I’ll never hear it. You WANT to, but it’s a lost cause and I know it… still, though… it’s kinda like that ex you still hopelessly love and want them to say that they still love you, even if they’re with someone else… it’ll never happen, but you hope. Or if you’re Brett Tomko and want to desperately think that you landed your Playboy wife solely on personality, looks and talent… uhh… anyways, I think the point was, that I woke up and, despite my hoping and praying about a possible Pierre trade, which would shock me to read, I was equally surprised to read the following:
“Kansas City Royals sign P Hideo Nomo to a minor-league contract.”
I about fell out of my bed and had to rewind that on my DVR to make sure I read that correctly. Sure enough, I read right; THE same Hideo Nomo that I thought had been out of baseball for the past two years and was back in Japan leading a nice, charmed life. But, dammit, the man, now 39, is still at it, apparently having last pitched for the Leones del Caracas team, of the Venezuelan Winter League and also coached by former battery mate and Dodger, Carlos Hernandez. Thinking about this got me feeling all nostalgic and reminding me of some of the old days with Nomo…
You see, Hideo Nomo is one of my all-time favorite Dodgers. Go through my Dodgers shrine room and you’ll see an old Nomo flag, a shirt during the whole Nomomania campaign and other Nomo related stuff. Unfortunately, you’ll also find that, nearly 13 years later, the damn rewrite of “The Banana Boat Song” that KTLA did for promos during his rookie season (Hi-DAYYY-O!) is still in my fucking head (Hideo Nomo, Hideo Nomo. One strike, two strike, three strike….. ARGH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAKE IT STOP!!)
For someone not old enough to remember Fernandomania, Nomomania was really something I hadn’t seen before or, for that matter, since. The amount of photographers from both sides of the continent that would photograph his every single pitch was mindblowing. Not even Ichiro’s arrival in 2001 was this big. Hell, Nomo even had his own shoe. And during those first few years, he was really something to watch, winning Rookie Of The Year honors, and sporting a 2.90 ERA, 150 ERA+, 236 K’s, and a 1.05 WHIP to go with it that year. That is sick… more on that later…
Unfortunately, he never quite matched that rookie season again, but he still put up a very good 1996, which included the famed no-hitter at Coors Field. To me, that is very possibly the most impressive no-hitter ever, at least based on the one’s that are in my memory. Think about that night… the weather was far from great, in fact, there was a long rain delay, and he comes back and throws a no-hitter against the Blake Street Bombers who, that season, were hitting .348 at home and scored 632 runs at home up to that point – then a major league record – and also had the best winning percentage at home. Coors Field was in the prime of being the greatest hitter’s park ever and he no-hits them. Really, think about that… it just blows my mind.
One of my favorite qualities about Nomo was always his demeanor. I mean, nothing could faze the guy and the no-hitter at Coors Field is a prime example; it was if he didn’t even realize where he was pitching. At that time, that place would (and rightfully) scare the crap out of pitchers and, also, pitchers would sometimes take extra warm ups. Nomo was throwing that night as if he were in his backyard. He was, without a doubt, the most stoic pitcher that I have ever seen. Incredibly mentally tough and never once do I ever remember seeing him get down on himself if something went wrong, not even once things started going downhill in 2004. In other words; the antithesis of Derek Lowe or Jeff Weaver. The dude had balls of steel, rightfully earning the nickname “The Warrior,” and one of my favorite Nomo moments came in 2003, when he went up against Curt Schilling in Arizona. Having to sport an offense behind him that made most little league teams look like the 1927 Yankees in comparison, Nomo managed to outduel Schilling in a 1-0 classic pitcher’s duel. The one run? A double to left from Larry freaking Barnes. Yeah, pretty much sums up the offense that year. Nomo had some really electric stuff in his day, with a great fastball in the early years, which made his forkball that much more devastating. Later on in his career, which played into his resurgence, was more of a reliance on the forkball and it was a nasty pitch. That thing would just drop off the table and totally embarrass hitters. It is probably the best forkball I’ve ever seen. Just filthy.
Despite how he’s almost become forgotten in ways, he did make an impact on baseball, which makes it all the more a shame how he went out. As if you needed more reasons to hate Jim Tracy, one of his most unforgivable sins was the way he handled Nomo in 2004 and practically disgraced the man. After finishing off his stellar 2003 with shoulder and fatigue problems (which, again, I wonder how much the shitty offense played into), Nomo opted for surgery and he was never the same again. His velocity completely vanished and, even as early as the first Spring Training game, it was obvious something was wrong, as he was barely pushing 80 MPH on his fastball. Alas, he never got it back, and despite the fact that his velocity just vanished, Tracy sent him out there every day until July to pitch in that condition, even though his ERA was, like, in the 7′s most of the time. He was finally shelved in July and came back in September to have one decent start at Arizona – mostly smoke and mirrors – but afterwards, he got lit up again and that was it for him as a Dodger. Finished. Done. No mo…(couldn’t resist, sorry…)
A sad way to go out for sure, but his legacy still remains and, to this day, he remains the standard for all Japanese pitchers coming to the states. He is a pioneer and was not only the first successful Japanese MLB player ever, but also paved the way for the Ichiro’s, the Matsui’s, the Dice-K’s, the Saito’s, and the Kuroda’s of the world. His career accomplishments have become overshadowed somewhat, due to a few horrific seasons in the late ’90′s – he did bounce around a lot then – and with the way he went out (his career ERA would likely still be under 4, if not for his 2004 season alone), which might give his career a novelty feel for some. However, he still remains the most successful starting pitcher that Japan has ever sent here and, until Dice-K did it this year, Nomo was the only Japanese pitcher to ever win 15 games. I will concede that saying that probably also speaks more about the quality of Japanese pitching that has come here, but Nomo was certainly not a novelty. When his arm was fully attached, and he was on his game, the man was a badass on the mound who could be damn near unhittable at times with that fastball and forkball. He was also a strikeout machine… granted, also at times a walk machine, as well, but definitely a very solid career, which provided me many great moments during his tenure with the Dodgers.
- Fastest pitcher ever to reach 500 K’s.
- 3rd fastest to reach 1,000 K’s.
- One of four players ever to throw no-hitters in both leagues.
- Remains the only pitcher ever to throw no-hitters at Coors Field and Camden Yards.
- 1995 NL Rookie Of The Year
- 1996 ESPY Breakthrough Athlete
- Occasionally being called Hideo Homo by the real Vin, in particular, during one rather amusing moment in SF.
Oh yeah… remember I said I’d go back to his 1995 season and provide you a cool stat? Well, here it is, plus some more:
As hard as it might be to believe, Nomo was one of the more prolific strikeout pitchers of his era. There are only two pitchers who make the top 10 in the best K/9 rate for a single season in Dodgers history. Sandy Koufax owns SEVEN of those spots, while Nomo owns the other three. But Nomo’s 236 K’s in 191 innings in 1995 gave him an 11.10 K/9 rate, which gives him the #1 spot all-time in Dodgers’ history. His 1996 season (9.22) gives him the 7 spot, while his 1997 season (10.11) ranks 5th all-time in franchise history. In fact, the really shocking part is that Nomo’s K/9 rate during those three seasons combined not only give him the single season record, but, believe it or not, it is Hideo Nomo who owns the highest career K/9 rate out of ANY Dodger pitcher during the 20th century. Keep in mind that the key word to this is 20th century, thus eliminating any numbers that Nomo put up in his second stint, which brought his overall total down (although, if you still want to count it, he “only” ranks 3rd). Yeah, he only threw around 3.5 seasons in his first stint, but it’s a cool statistic. Another shocking one: he actually ranks tied for 10th all-time in K/9.
Despite the fun trip back to Nostalgiaville, though, I don’t see Hideo getting a sniff at the big leagues with the Royals, and he probably really should retire. However, I am rooting for him, and hope he does well.
Good luck, Hideo, and thanks for the memories… and, dude, lose some weight. I checked YouTube to see you pitch and, my God, you’re like the Japanese Broxton now. Eh, you still have the coolest windup ever, though (God knows how many times I’ve fallen on my ass trying to emulate it)…