Ever since modern baseball was introduced in Japan in the 1930s by Babe Ruth and other visiting American stars, the sport has been a passion there. Now the Japanese are likely to become Dodger fans as they track star pitcher Hideo Nomo, who is leaving Osaka for the Los Angeles team.
In a couple of weeks, Nomo, 26, who was signed this week, will report to the Dodgers' minor league camp at Vero Beach, Fla. (Federal labor law prohibits him from pitching in the major leagues as a replacement during the strike.) The 6-foot-2, 210-pound pitcher is nicknamed "the Tornado" in Japan because of his zany, corkscrew windup, reminiscent of Luis Tiant, the famed Cuban pitcher of the 1960s and '70s who finished his career with the California Angels.
U.S. players, including former Dodger stars like Reggie Smith, long have played besoboru in Japan. Masanori Murakami, who pitched for the San Francisco Giants in the 1960s, is the only Japanese player to have played in America's major leagues.
Nomo's acculturation to baseball American style will be interesting to observe. Americans and Japanese play by almost the same rules, but with very different philosophies, a difference that Robert Whiting chronicled so well in his book, "You Gotta Have Wa."
On a Japanese ballclub, wa--the perfect harmony of team unity--always comes first. But byleaving the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Osaka, Nomo may already be exhibiting an independent streak more akin to American players. Now if only the strike would end so that Nomo can play ball and all of America can watch.