The comeback has ended. A dream has died. The Kansas City Royals’ experiment with veteran pitcher Hideo Nomo is finally, pathetically no mo’.
The Royals climactically came to their senses and designated Nomo for assignment on April 20. They then requested unconditional release waivers on April 25 and released Nomo, officially, on April 28. Barring an unlikely scenario, Nomo will not be offered another contract from another team and his 13-year major league career is over.
He was the first of the modern wave of Asian players to succeed in the majors. Nomo won 123 major league games; hurled two no-hitters and still stands as the Dodgers’ best free-agent signing ever — TWICE. He struck out more than 220 batters in a season four times. Now 39 and out of gas, Nomo leaves the game battered, if not bruised.
The right-hander had an ERA above 18.00 in four appearances this season before somebody inside the Royals woke up and slapped themselves. It probably WASN’T manager Trey Hillman, a long-time admirer of Nomo. A former Japanese League manager, Hillman wanted Nomo for his new team but is now dealing with the reality that his man-crush isn’t enough to bring new life into an old limb.
Hillman may be crazy, but Nomo was actually a great pitcher who deserved adulation, once. His twisted delivery fooled National League hitters during his first season in 1995, going 13-6 with a 2.56 ERA en route to a Rookie of the Year award. He rekindled a bit of Fernando Mania that year, too. Probably more so than any player since.
His outstanding statistic: Most career victories of any Japanese pitcher. Not bad, if you were born in Japan. Does that deserve serious Hall of Fame consideration? Unlikely. But it could happen.
Coincidentally, Nomo never attempted to learn English, reportedly, so that he didn’t have to communicate with American media. Probably a smart move for him. Who wants to talk the a abrasive American media when you don’t have to? Or the Hall of Fame, if and when they come calling.