A look back at Hideo Nomo’s start in the major leagues in 1995 and the historical significance of his move to the Dodgers.
By Ed Odeven
June 2, 1995, is a monumental day in the annals of Japan’s baseball history.
Twenty five years later, it’s an ideal time to revisit Hideo Nomo’s first MLB victory, and his role as a baseball trailblazer. Even more so perhaps because of the current absence of the regular season in North America and Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nomo achieved greatness from the get-go in his pro career with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League, including 18-, 17-, 18-, and 17-win campaigns in his first four years (1990-93), while at the same time nabbing four PL strikeout crowns (287, 287, 228, and 276) in that span. He slipped to 8-7 in 1994, when he was bothered by a shoulder injury.
After the 1994 campaign, the Buffaloes rejected Nomo’s desire to have an agent represent him in contract talks and a six-year contract. Agent Don Nomura and Nomo struck back. The hard-working right-handed hurler “retired.” The voluntary retirement clause in the Japanese Uniform Players Contract, which hadn’t been exercised before, enabled Nomo to break away from the Buffaloes, who retained his rights in Japan, and pursue playing opportunities elsewhere.
It revolutionized the relationship between MLB and NPB, opening the floodgates for Japanese players to pursue their dreams in North America.
But first it led to a minor league contract for Nomo with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Feb. 13, 1995. Yes, Nomo still had to prove himself to Dodgers management at a North American ballpark, but he had a $2 million USD signing bonus and a $109,000 deal, which was the MLB minimum salary in ’95.
That’s the short version of the story (more details in an upcoming series).
1995 MLB Season
A bitter labor dispute ended the 1994 MLB season early when the players went on strike on August 12, and the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904. Finally, on April 2, the 232-day strike ended. The season started three weeks later. SEE Nomo’s 1995 season game-by-game pitching log here.
Nomo, meanwhile, made one start for the Bakersfield Blaze (Class A California League), working 5 1/3 innings in a 2-1 loss to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on April 27.
His call-up to the majors made him the first Japanese native to compete in the majors since left-handed reliever Masanori Murakami of the San Francisco Giants in 1964-65.
In his MLB debut on May 2 against the Giants at Candlestick Park, Nomo showcased his ability to strike batters out (seven), but also issued four walks in five scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit in a 4-3 loss. Four more no-decisions followed on May 7, 12, 17 and 23. SEE the CNN report on Nomo’s May 2 debut game here and check out the full game video here.
“The Tornado” took his first loss on May 28 against the visiting Montreal Expos, toiling for 6 1/3 innings. He gave up four hits and three runs, walked seven and fanned nine.
Then, on June 2, Nomo stymied the New York Mets over eight frames, holding them to two hits and one run (a Bobby Bonilla homer in the second). In the ninth, he yielded a leadoff walk to Rico Brogna, then reliever Todd Worrell replaced him. Nomo had thrown 123 pitches (70 strikes). FIND the June 2 boxscore here.
The Osaka native, who walked three and struck out six, watched the rest of the game from the dugout.
Worrell got the third out on a Dave Segui groundout to second baseman Delino DeShields.
Video footage preserved the hosts’ post-game euphoria, and Dodgers announcer Vin Scully vividly described the way it ended.
“Hideo Nomo getting (high-) fives and hugs as he comes on the field,” the Hall of Fame broadcaster said. “A big grin on Hideo’s face as he has finally done it.”
Longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who retired after the 1996 season, couldn’t hide his excitement.
“For him to get his first victory here, with the crowd like that, it was very dramatic,” Lasorda told reporters after the game.
“I haven’t felt that kind of electricity here, going through the crowd, in a long time. He pitched a great game. … Believe me, he was thinking about getting that first win, and we got it for him. And that’s the first of many he’s going to win for this club. He’s a real quality pitcher.”
Said Dodgers backup catcher Tom Prince, who started in place of Mike Piazza: “He was outstanding. He moved the ball around, and his forkball was working. He made some big pitches.”
Stepping out of the dugout, Nomo tipped his cap for the fans, and then he celebrated.
Nomo carried a bottle of champagne into the Dodgers clubhouse after the game, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’m very happy and I’m very glad,” Nomo declared.
“I can’t say that I was really tired,” he added, speaking to reporters through a translator.