The Pioneer

It’s early, about six months early, to talk about the next Hall of Fame voting, but it will be one of the more interesting votes in a long time. Most of the verbage and ink will be about the steroid guys and what to do with them. But I want to concentrate on two other men, two men who have little chance of ever being elected to the Hall of Fame. Two men that I think should get a good look before leaving the ballot, because they represent two modern trends in baseball that are now commonplace. Here’s my argument for one of them.

Hideo Nomo at the top of his windup

Hideo Nomo won’t appear on the ballot until the next year. His last game was in 2008, but it’s still a good time to discuss him. His numbers are as follows: 123 wins, 4.24 ERA, 1918 strikeouts and 908 walks in 1976 innings pitched, a WHIP of 1.354, ERA+ of 97 and a no-hitter. He was also the National League Rookie of the Year. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers, right? I concur, but let me make two points about Nomo.

First, he got to the major leagues at age 26 after a successful stint in Japan. In Japan he was very good. It got him his tryout in the US and he made the most of it. I didn’t look too hard for his Japanese numbers because even if I found them, I have no idea how to interpret them. Is an MLB win equivalent to three wins in Japan, or is it two, or maybe four? I don’t know. How do 1918 strikeouts in the US compare to his strikeout total in Japan. Again, I don’t know. Is Japanese baseball more or less equal to Major League baseball or is it Triple A or Double A? As long as there is no criteria for comparison it’s useless to worry about Nomo’s numbers in Japan. And I don’t think it’s fair to say “Well, let’s look at other Japanese players and see how they did” because they’ve been a very mixed bag. Some have been great (like Suzuki), others like Hideki Matsui have been superior, and still others like Hideki Irabu have been busts. That’s true of non-Japanese players too. But there is universal agreement that Nomo was very good in Japan and that 26 is late to start a Major League career. So maybe his numbers would be better if he’d come up through a Major League system. We’ll never know.

And second, I think his impact on the game is much greater than his numbers. Without trying to compare him to Jackie Robinson directly (Robinson was a much better player) Nomo holds much the same status in Japan as Robinson does here. Without Nomo the influx of East Asian players (Japan, Korea, Taiwan) simply isn’t possible.   I’m old enough to remember Masanori Murakami with San Francisco in the 1960s (I think I heard him pitch once on the radio), but that was the sum total of Japanese players in the Majors until Nomo arrived. Now there are dozens of them and Nomo’s success is a major reason. He showed American owners, players, and fans that Japanese players were good enough to compete at the highest level.

I think he should be remembered for that. He opened up Major League baseball to entire group of new players and somehow he ought to be commemorated. Is he a Hall of Fame member? Despite what I just wrote, I wouldn’t vote for him, but I’d love to see Cooperstown put up some sort of exhibit that included him and acknowledged his importance. Until they do, I’d like to see him hang on the Hall of Fame ballot.

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One Response to “The Pioneer”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I hadn’t thought of that, but I think you’re right. If The Hall hasn’t had an exhibit about the history of Japanese baseball players in America, it’s well past time that it should. And, of course, Nomo should be a significant part of that exhibit.
    Good call,
    Bill

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