By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
Nearly 20 years after becoming the center of a baseball tornado, Hideo Nomo may once again find himself the focus of a sports milestone.
The former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander on Tuesday became the first Japanese player ever to be named on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot.
Nomo is one of 19 former major leaguers to have their names listed on the ballot for the first time, among them four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, two-time winner Tom Glavine and two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas.
While he was not the first Japanese player to break into the U.S. big leagues, Nomo is widely credited for paving the way to the majors for a robust migration of Japanese and Asian players, including Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Irabu, Hideki Matsui, Chan Ho Park, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
To be elected to baseball’s highest honor, players must receive 75 percent of the votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who will cast ballots through Dec. 31. Inductees, if any, will be announced Jan. 8.
When Nomo debuted with the Dodgers in 1995, he landed like a storm out of nowhere. His unorthodox delivery – which earned him the nickname “Tornado” – confounded hitters. His most effective pitch, the wobbling, diving forkball, was as unpredictable as a box of old hand grenades, and could be as elusive to his own catchers as it was to opposing batters.
Starting that year’s All-Star game, Nomo struck out three of the six batters he faced, and at season’s end was named the National League Rookie of the Year. In his Major League career with eight different teams, he compiled a record of 123 wins and 109 losses with 1,918 strikeouts.
The only Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the majors – he did it twice, for the Dodgers and Red Sox – Nomo retired from playing in 2008.
Nomo has established his own amateur team in Japan and works regularly with young players. In recent years, he has brought teams of high school players to take part in games at the Major League Baseball Youth Academy in Compton.
During a visit to Dodger Stadium last August, Nomo, 45, downplayed his significance in the history of the game.
“I wasn’t thinking about the players that might follow me,” he explained. “I was concentrating on doing the best I could, and the people around me, like [former Dodgers owner Peter] O’Malley and Tommy Lasorda and all the staff that supported me, these people made it easier to focus on baseball. I have nothing but appreciation for them.”