Nomo inducted into Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

People don’t remember Hideo Nomo by his records. They remember him as a trailblazer.

And that’s enough to get him into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

The former starting pitcher in both Japan and the major leagues was selected by the Players Selection Committee, along with former closer Kazuhiro Sasaki and ex-slugger Koji Akiyama, the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum announced on Friday.

Nomo, who was a star for the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Los Angeles Dodgers, is the third person to be selected in his first year of eligibility (following Victor Starffin in 1960 and Sadaharu Oh in 1994). He is the youngest person to be inducted, at age of 45 years, 4 months, surpassing the late Tetsuharu Kawakami (at 45 years, 8 months).

Nomo failed to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the U.S. last week as he collected just six votes (1.1 percent of the votes). But for the Japanese HOF this time, he garnered 82.4 percent of the 324 votes, easily above the 75 percent threshold needed for induction.

Not a man known for many words, Nomo showed his gratitude with a brief statement.

“I appreciate that I’ve been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Nomo, who wasn’t at the news conference because he was busy with his own boys’ baseball tournament in Hyogo Prefecture.

In contrast to Nomo’s cool reception, his former bosses in the States sent their warmest congratulations.

“I am so happy and proud to learn of Hideo Nomo’s election to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Tommy Lasorda, who was Nomo’s manager with the Dodgers in the pitcher’s early years in the majors. “He was quite a pitcher and competitor, but he is also a very special and caring person. The Dodger fans loved him and it became the start of Nomo Mania in Los Angeles and Japan.”

Peter O’Malley, a former owner of the Dodgers, told Nomo: “Ever since we first met in 1995, I have admired your professionalism and courage facing baseball’s finest hitters.”

Although Nomo was the second Japanese-born player to play in the majors, following Masanori Murakami, the right-hander was widely known as the pioneer that opened the door to the big leagues that other Japanese would eventually follow.

A former player with the Yokohama BayStars and Seattle Mariners, Sasaki, who came into NPB in the same year (1989) as Nomo, was one of them.

Sasaki, who became the third-youngest inductee at the age of 45 years, 10 months, said that the news of him being chosen came as a surprise.

“I was saying to Akiyama-san in the dressing room (before the news conference) that I didn’t expect to be selected this early,” said Sasaki, who racked up 252 saves in Japan and 129 in the States. “I thought that’s something you wouldn’t get until you become 60 years old or something.”

Akiyama, 51, felt humbled to be enshrined.

“I wasn’t sure if I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Akiyama, who played for the Seibu Lions and Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (predecessor of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks). “Now I’m so thrilled to join the great elders of baseball.”

Akiyama is still in uniform. He’s the skipper of the Hawks.

Despite his modest comments, Akiyama, who is the only player to have won both a home run title and stolen base title in NPB’s two-league history, was regarded as one of the Japanese players most likely to succeed in the majors in his heyday in the late ’80s and early 90s.

“He had the speed and power,” said Osamu Higashio, who was a teammate of Akiyama with the Seibu Lions. “I’d say that if he was a player today, he’d become a free agent at the age of about 30 and go to the majors.”

In an era in which the flow of Japanese talent to the majors is not unusual any more, the Hall of Fame selection may have entered a new chapter.

Nomo and Sasaki, both of whom earned Rookie of the Year awards in the majors, are the first inductees whose playing careers were split between Japan and the majors. Obviously, the selection committee takes players’ achievements in the majors into considerations.

In fact, Nomo had a much longer career in the States, where he amassed 123 wins (109 losses) while notching a pair of no-hitters in 12 years with seven clubs. The Osaka native was the Pacific League’s winningest pitchers four years in a row from his pro debut season in 1990, notching a 78-46 record (one save) for Kintetsu in five years.

Meanwhile, the late Choichi Aida, who was a manager of Waseda University and helped the development of the Tokyo Big Six league in the post-war era, was chosen by the Special Selection Committee.

No one was selected by the Expert Selection Committee.

Among those missing out in the Players Selection Committee vote were former Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta and former player and current skipper of the Yomiuri Giants, Tatsunori Hara.