words // Nick Engvall
In 1995, a Japanese pitcher named Hideo Nomo became the first Japanese-born player to play in the Major Leagues in over 30 years. Although his success in the Big Leagues was relatively short-lived, his impact was far beyond what any rookie of this day and age has had. Nomo’s first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which came after about five years of pitching in Japan, was his best. His windup and delivery was something that seemed more appropriately placed in a video game than in the real world and had the capability to make even the greatest of opposing batters look like they were back in Little League.
On top of baffling batters, Nomo’s windup wowed the fans even more so. For me, personally, Nomo’s Major League debut is something I will never forget. In May of 1995, he took to the mound against the San Francisco Giants. His delivery, in its tornado-like spiraling motion, was like a music conductor that day. For each and every pitch, the thousands of fans who had traveled just to see Hideo Nomo would ooh and aah. Each pitch began with a crescendo of “ooh” in anticipation as Hideo spun almost completely backwards in his windup, and then simultaneously the crowd let out an “aah” of relief as he spun forward and threw to home plate. Even while cheering against his team, it was hard for me not to get into the whole spectacle, and I found myself “oohing and aahing” right along with the rest of the audience. Especially with all the Japanese media in attendance, broadcasting the game back to Japan live, even with its 4:35 AM Tokyo start time, it was an unforgettable game. Nomo finished with seven strikeouts and allowed only one hit in the five innings he pitched.
After becoming the starting pitcher for the National League All Star team and winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1995, Nomo quickly grabbed an endorsement deal with Nike. His popularity in the United States seemed to only be surpassed by his popularity in Japan, and his Nike Baseball Commercials only fueled the fire for the Nike Air Max Nomo that was originally released in 1996. Nomo’s second season, which included the first of two no-hitters in his career, did the same.
The Air Max Nomo signature line was short lived, but over the years has become one of the most recognizable sneakers from Nike Training. This was in part due to the midsole tooling, which most will quickly relate to the Nike Air Griffey Max 1, but also because it never made a return as a Retro, thus adding to its allure.
Check out the images in this week’s Eastbay Memory Lane from the early 1997 Eastbay catalog.