Saturday, May 11, 2019

Missing In Action - Hideo Nomo

When it comes to guys who've been left out of Japanese card sets, there's no one who's been left out more than Hideo Nomo.

After playing a couple seasons for Nippon Steel of the industrial leagues after graduating high school and playing on the 1988 Japanese Olympic Baseball Team, Nomo was selected by a record eight teams in the first round of the fall 1989 draft.  The Kintetsu Buffaloes won the lottery for his rights and he made his debut the following season.  And what a season it was - Nome went 18-8 with a 2.91 ERA and 287 strikeouts in 235 innings pitched.  He led the Pacific League in wins, strikeouts and ERA and became only the second NPB player ever to win the MVP, Rookie Of The Year and Sawamura Awards (and he was the only guy to win all three in one year).  He also was named to the Pacific League's Best 9 that year.  He followed that up with a three more seasons of leading the Pacific League in wins and strikeouts before having a so-so year in 1994, much of which was caused by his disagreements with the team and manager Keishi Suzuki.

Nomo's agent, Don Nomura, had found a loophole in the MLB and NPB agreement that would allow Nomo to become a free agent and sign with an MLB team so after the 1994 season he voluntarily retired from NPB and signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He sent 13-6 with an ERA of 2.54 ERA and a National League leading 236 strikeouts in his first season in MLB.  He won the NL Rookie Of The Year award, becoming the only player ever to win the award in both NPB and MLB.  He spent most of the following ten seasons in the majors, playing for Dodgers, Mets, Tigers, Red Sox and Devil Rays.  He threw two no-hitters, both the first and so far only ones thrown at two hitter friendly ballparks - Coors Field in Denver (for the Dodgers against the Rockies in 1996) and Oriole Park At Camden Yards in Baltimore (for the Red Sox against the Orioles in 2001).  After a couple of seasons in the minors he returned to the majors in 2008 with the Royals but was released after pitching poorly in three outings and retired a few months later.

Nomo won 201 games between MLB and NPB (123 in MLB, 78 in NPB) and struck out 3122 batters (1918 in MLB, 1204 in NPB).  The 200 wins earned him a spot in the Meikyukai and he was elected to the Japanese Hall Of Fame in 2014, his first year of eligibility.  He was only the third player ever elected to the Hall Of Fame on the first ballot (after Victor Starffin and Sadaharu Oh) and was the youngest player (at 45 years and four months) ever elected.

Nomo had many cards during his five seasons in Japan.  He only had one card in 1990 (in the Takara Buffaloes team set) but he had at least fifty in the following four seasons, mostly from BBM, Calbee, and Takara but also Q-Cards and Tomy.

1990 Takara Buffaloes #11

1991 BBM #379

1992 BBM #4

1993 Calbee #8

1994 BBM All Stars #A48
But after 1994 - absolutely nothing.  There are no NPB cards of Nomo after 1994.  In fact the only Japanese cards I know of for Nomo after he left for MLB are from the 2003 Topps/Kanebo set that depict Nomo as a Dodger.  He might be in some of the other MLB sets made for the Japanese market in the early 00's but I haven't been able to find a checklist to verify. 

Actually I need to add a caveat to that.  Like Warren Cromartie, Nomo had four cards in the 2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 set but none of them show his picture:

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #024
There's a fairly large number of BBM sets that could reasonably have been expected to include Nomo - the 2004 and 2010 Kintetsu Memorial sets (the 2004 one was for the team "merging" with Orix while the 2010 one was for the team's 60th Anniversary), the 2010 (BBM) 20th Anniversary set, the 2013 Osaka Limited set (he was born in Osaka), the 2014 80th Anniversary Pitchers Edition set, the 2014 All Star Game Memories 90's set, the 2014 Buffaloes Achievement set, the 2015 (BBM) 25th Anniversary set, the 2016 Spirit Of Legends box set (featuring Sawamura Award winners) as well as any number of the annual "Historic Collection" sets BBM did between 2002 and 2016.  He also would not have been out of place in any of Epoch's sets with the All Japan Baseball Foundation/Japan Baseball Promotion Association/OB Club or either of Calbee's Anniversary subsets for their 30th (2002) and 40th (2012) Anniversaries.  All of these opportunities and yet no Nomo appearances.

I have no idea why Nomo has not appeared on an NPB card since 1994.  It could be that the league still harbors resentment towards him for the way he left and has forbidden license holders to make cards of him.  It could be that Nomo himself harbors resentment towards the league and doesn't want to appear in any cards of theirs.  It could be some combination of both. 


Fuji said...

Great post. It's always interesting when players just disappear from certain brands due to contract issues. I remember when Ichiro disappeared from Topps products for a couple of years. Anyways... that 1990 Takara is awesome! I'd love to add one of those to my Nomo collection one day.

Sean said...

I would assume his absence is explained by the fact BBM and Calbee produce cards under licence by NPB and, having left it, they would instead have to negotiate an individual contract with him to use his image on the cards. Maybe he just doesn't want to do that or wants more money than they are willing to pay!