Hideo Nomo and Peter O’Malley at the press conference introducing Nomo at the New Otani Hotel in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 1995.  Nomo was elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)
Hideo Nomo and Peter O’Malley at the press conference introducing Nomo at the New Otani Hotel in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 1995. Nomo was elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Hideo Nomo was elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday, becoming the youngest player ever to be honored at age 45 and 4 months.

Nearly 19 years ago, Nomo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers to become the first player to make the move from Japan’s professional baseball league to Major League Baseball in 30 years. Nomo reported to 1995 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., surrounded by multitudes of media from Japan and the United States documenting his every move.

Nomo becomes one of only three players in history elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Victor Starffin, a Russian who pitched and won 303 games in Japan, and Tokyo Giants superstar Sadaharu Oh, the all-time leader in home runs with 868, were the others elected to the Hall in their first year of eligibility.

Dodger President and CEO Stan Kasten offered his congratulations to the former star on Friday.

“‘Nomomania’ was a very special time for Dodger fans in the United States and internationally,” he said. “He had a great career both in Japan and the United States and that’s quite evident by the overwhelming voter support Hideo received in gaining entrance on the first ballot.”

Tommy Lasorda, who managed Nomo during his first two MLB seasons in 1995-96, also sent well wishes.

Nomo pitches for the Dodgers in Los Angeles in 2008. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
Nomo pitches for the Dodgers in Los Angeles in 2004. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“I am so happy and proud to learn of Hideo Nomo’s election to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. He is truly a Hall of Famer,” Lasorda said. “When he came to the Dodgers in 1995, I remember taking him under my wing like a son and helping him with the transition. 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 ‘Nomomania’ in Los Angeles and Japan. Hideo, on behalf of the Dodger organization, congratulations on this prestigious honor. We wish you and your wonderful family many happy and healthy years.”

Known, among other nicknames, as “Warrior,” Nomo visited Historic Dodgertown (no longer used by the club as their Spring Training facility) last year to help welcome the baseball team from Meiji University, one of the largest and most prestigious Japanese universities, located in Tokyo, which trained there.

Historic Dodgertown CEO Peter O’Malley, longtime force in the growth of international baseball, signed free agent Nomo on Feb. 13, 1995 and immediately took the right-handed pitcher under his wing.

Nomo, with his trademark twisting and turning pitching wind-up, made the major transition from the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Japan to MLB as a nation rooted for him.

O’Malley sent this personal message to Nomo: “Congratulations, Hideo, I am very happy for you. You deserve this extraordinary recognition by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ever since we first met in 1995, I have admired your professionalism and courage facing baseball’s finest hitters. Everyone in the Dodger organization respected you. You are a pioneer and have opened the door for others to follow you in Major League Baseball. Well done.”

Nomo won 123 games in 12 major league seasons, plus 78 games for Kintetsu in Japan. He pitched for the Dodgers from 1995-1998 and 2002-2004. Nomo’s popularity was historic, as his homeland watched every start on giant screen televisions placed on buildings and on street corners in 13 major cities. No matter when the game started, it was televised live in Japan.

Nomo did not disappoint and fan support grew. Dodger Stadium was packed for his starts and he filled National League stadiums when he pitched, creating a phenomenon known as “Nomomania,” as Americans of Japanese descent attended, while tourists from Japan also flocked to watch him.

He was selected as the starting pitcher for the 1995 All-Star Game in Texas and struck out three in two scoreless innings. After going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 28 starts, Nomo was named 1995 N.L. Rookie of the Year, the fourth consecutive Dodger in a string of five to earn that distinction. He became a role model for school-aged children and the biggest hero imaginable.

Nomo is one of only five pitchers to have thrown a no-hitter in both the American and National Leagues (for the Dodgers at Colorado and for the Red Sox at Baltimore).

This year, Nomo was on the ballot for the MLB Hall of Fame for the first time, but received only six votes. Per the rules set by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, his receiving fewer than  28 votes makes him no longer eligible for election into the Hall.

Today, Nomo is leading an industrial league team in the Osaka region called Nomo Baseball Club, which gives non-drafted players (semi-professional) an opportunity to compete.

More than 40 players from Japan have followed pioneer Nomo’s footsteps to play in MLB. Japan’s Masanori Murakami pitched for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-65, but then returned to complete his career in his homeland. Nomo stayed and reached the pinnacle.

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