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Friday, May 25, 2001
Contribution to game will put Nomo into the Hall of Fame
"When he tossed his second career no-hitter on April 4 against the Baltimore Orioles, Nomo assured his entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame."
That sentence in my Sports Scope column of May 10 (Nomo still getting job done his own way) has provoked criticism from near and far over the merits of Boston Red Sox right-hander Hideo Nomo being worthy of admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While I respectfully thank our readers for weighing in with their opinions, and always welcome their thoughts, be they positive or critical, when I saw parts of my column were being referred to as "a howler" and "flat wrong" and that my statement about Nomo "should not go unchallenged," I felt compelled to explain my logic on the matter. I can assure you it is very sound.
Those who have written or voiced their opinion on the subject have relied entirely upon statistical data to determine whether or not Nomo is worthy of the honor and this is where they have gone off track.
In my column about Nomo, I did not mention one statistical figure (other than the number of no-hitters he has thrown), because the column wasn't about that. It was about Nomo's unique character and fortitude and how he has used them to be a successful pitcher in the major leagues.
It is this same combination that will help get him into the Hall of Fame.
I saw his second no-hitter as an exclamation point on his very significant contribution to the game.
The Hall of Fame currently has 253 members, including players, managers, team and league executives and umpires. I am sure that very few people know that of this 253, nearly 59 percent (a total of 149) were elected by the Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans.
The standard for admission by the Baseball Writers' Association of America is very high, as it should be, and this is why only 104 people have made it into the Hall via their votes. But there is more to membership in the Hall than mere numbers.
Contributions to the game, in varying forms, must be considered, and it is via this route that Nomo will make it. He will be elected by the Veterans Committee long after he has retired.
To only focus on his statistics is short-sighted. Let's look at a case in point:
* Ten seasons played, lifetime batting average of .311, 137 home runs, 734 RBIs and a postseason career batting average of .234 in 38 games.
Sound like Hall of Fame numbers to you? Probably not. Guess who they belong to?
If they decided admission to the Hall solely on statistics, Robinson would not have made it. It was his contribution to the game, and the fearlessness with which he played it, that got him in. His courage in going against fear and prejudice in breaking the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the age of 28 and his guts are what people remember most.
Robinson was one of the great all-around athletes in American history, and many who knew him well said baseball wasn't even his best sport. Yet he is, very deservedly, in the Hall.
My logic on Nomo is based upon my knowledge of his accomplishments and how he fits into the Hall's definition of a "pioneer."
Let's look at some of his accomplishments up to this point:
* Won the 1995 National League Rookie of the Year Award.
* Started the All-Star Game for the National League in his first season.
* Became only the second Japanese player ever to play in the majors.
* Became the first Japanese to hit a home run in the majors.
* Threw two no-hitters (one in both the National and American League).
* Brought interest and enthusiasm back to the game after the players' strike of 1994.
But more important than any of the aforementioned, Nomo has been a trailblazer for all of the Japanese players that will follow him, and this my friends, is what will seal his admission to the Hall. Why am I so sure?
Well, back in 1995, after I had proposed and helped organize a 30th anniversary celebration the San Francisco Giants held in honor of Masanori "Mashi" Murakami -- the first Japanese to play in the majors (1964-65) -- I contacted the Hall of Fame to ask if Murakami was eligible to make the Hall because he was the first Japanese to play in the majors.
At the time, I didn't have any idea, so I thought the prudent thing to do would be to write to them and inquire about the issue.
In a letter dated Feb. 6, 1996, and copied to all Hall of Fame Officers, this is part of the response I received from Jeff Idelson, the director of public relations and promotions for the Hall of Fame:
Thanks so much for your correspondence regarding Masanori Murakami. It has taken some time to respond, as I wanted to share your information with my colleagues here at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
. . . Unfortunately, Mashi will not be eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee. Of course there is great historical significance in being the first ballplayer of Japanese ancestry to play Major League Baseball, but, he does not meet the service requirements as a player, and quite honestly, does not fit in the "pioneer" category either.
A pioneer is regarded as someone who starts a trend. To this point, there has not been a trend of Japanese baseball players joining American teams.
At the time, that statement was accurate. Five years later and the landscape has changed in a big way. There is a trend of Japanese players going to the majors now, and why?
Because of Hideo Nomo.
Though it could rightfully be argued that Murakami deserves some sort of special recognition for his accomplishment at the age of only 20, the bottom line is that Nomo is the one who is going to be receiving the plaque in the Hall of Fame.
Why? Because he is a pioneer for his generation and began a trend that will carry on. With every base hit that Ichiro Suzuki raps out or diving catch that Tsuyoshi Shinjo makes, they are further cementing Nomo's place in the Hall, because more Japanese players will continue to follow them to the majors.
It is my awareness of Nomo's achievements, my possession of this letter and my conversations with people who work in baseball that have me confident that after Nomo has thrown his last pitch in the majors -- be it this year, next year or in five years -- he will be able to walk off the mound and rightfully say:
"See you in Cooperstown."