By Coop Daley
When the Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 after four seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), it began a legendary trend for Major League Baseball (MLB). After almost thirty years of being isolated within Japan, Japanese players finally had the chance to sign and play in the States, and stars like Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano got the chance to show their stuff to a whole new audience. And none of it could have been possible without sports agent Don Nomura, who not only became the first sports agent in Japan to negotiate contracts for his players, but also brought in a new era of players’ rights and opportunities in both countries.
With all his experience in Japanese baseball, Nomura was a perfect guest for JapanBall’s “Chatter Up!” on August 13. During the discussion, Nomura answered a number of questions from guests, including why players like Nomo and Irabu jumped through the legal hoops to get to the MLB in the first place:
“I think just like in any other sport, you want to play with the best, against the best, and Major League Baseball happens to be the best on this Earth,” Nomura said. “It’s not every individual that wants to come here, but some of the players that have had challenging thoughts as an athlete, [who are] very competitive.”
Born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother, Nomura himself struggled a lot growing up. His mother left his father when he was only six, and with his fiery red hair, was often made fun of by his classmates for being “konketsu,” or mixed-blood. The challenges, however, led Nomura to understand who he was and gain a talent for rebelling for a cause, he told “Chatter Up!”
“Certainly the environment really shaped me up,” Nomura said. “I think living in a country where I thought was home and growing up in a one-race nation was pretty tough. Right after the war, realizing you kind of don’t understand the racial bias stuff, but you’re throwing in there and growing in there… and today, I do appreciate my father, my stepfather and my mother, that I was born and raised in Japan. It really shaped a lot of things and [helped] me to understand.”
Nomura also discussed his process for negotiating contracts for his clients, telling how when he first started, he’d often be kicked out of meetings, as Japan didn’t allow agents to speak for their players. Hideo Nomo, however, stood by him through it all:
“I’m kind of used to being kicked out. I was kicked out of school, out of office,” Nomura said. “Hideo knew that I was not allowed but he said, ‘let’s go.’ We went in together. They kicked me out. Hideo says ‘I’m leaving with you’ to the general manager then, so he was very cooperative. That’s the kind of client you want to have, that can support you and you can support him together. And that makes good synergy as a team.”
Beyond the fascinating stories, however, Nomura also took the time to discuss his late stepfather Katsuya Nomura, who passed in February of this year. Nomura told how the legendary catcher was fueled by a passion to succeed and keep himself and his family safe:
“To me, it’s just amazing what he has accomplished,” Nomura said. “I really can’t tell you how he [had] done it, but I know when I talked to him, he always said, ‘it’s the hungriness that I had because I came from poverty, and I had to make it. This is all I have, and this is all I have to give, and if I don’t do well, I will go back to poverty, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do.’ So he always had that complexity in his heart that drove him to do well, not only as a player, also as a manager, and also as I think a human being.”
Guests asked many more questions, including the state of the Japanese game in North America, his split mentality when dealing with American vs. Japanese management, and how he knows certain players could succeed in MLB. To read all of these discussions, you can check out the full transcript of the call here, or watch it in real-time on our YouTube channel. You can also check out Nomura’s full story, including his adventures with Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano, here.
With Nomo, Irabu and Soriano, Nomura helped build a bridge across the Pacific, creating a new era of international baseball in Major League Baseball, and the game is better because of it.