"Hideo Nomo was a trailblazer," said Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers in 1995. "He represented himself and his country to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. I am so proud of all he did for Japanese players."
Out of the Majors since 2005, Nomo made a comeback this year and earned a spot in the Royals bullpen. But slowed by an injury late in Spring Training, Nomo had an 18.69 ERA in three relief appearances in which he gave up 10 hits, including three home runs, in 4 1/3 innings.
Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said the Royals knew the odds were against Nomo when they signed him.
"But he still had the motivation to pitch, so we were more than willing to give him an opportunity," Moore said. "If he hadn't hurt his groin, who knows what he might have accomplished with us this year?"
A star in Japan before he signed with the Dodgers, Nomo made an immediate impact in the Majors. He led the NL in strikeouts in 1995 and went 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA.
Nomo also created a wave of "Nomo-mania" wherever he pitched. Many fans were curious to see his "tornado" windup, in which he paused with his arms overhead and then twisted his body before throwing.
Opposing hitters weren't so eager to see him. Nomo's forkball took a wicked dip, similar to a split-fingered fastball. He was tough for catchers to handle, too -- with balls often bouncing before the plate, he led the Majors with 19 wild pitches as a rookie.
Nomo finished 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA with the Dodgers, Mets, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays and Royals.
The right-hander's highlights were his two no-hitters.
In 1996 with the Dodgers, he pitched the first no-hitter in the history of Coors Field. He beat the Colorado Rockies at a time when pitchers routinely struggled at the mile-high ballpark.
Then in 2001, in his debut for the Red Sox, he pitched the first no-hitter at Camden Yards and beat Baltimore.
Nomo joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers to throw no-hitters in both leagues.
"He was a workhorse as a pitcher," Lasorda said. "Nobody alive today can throw a no-hitter in Colorado, and he did. He won the Rookie of the Year, and helped the Dodgers win the division in 1996. I know he will be inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame, and certainly hope he is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He is a pioneer, and he deserves all the recognition in the world."
When Nomo signed with the Dodgers, he became only the second Japanese player to reach the Majors -- Masanori Murakami pitched 54 games for San Francisco in the mid-1960s.
Following Nomo's success, many more Japanese players came to the Majors. Hideki Irabu, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Tomo Ohka were among those who quickly followed, with Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Hideki Matsui arriving later.
"He pioneered the Japanese players' transition to the United States," Moore said. "He was one of the dominant pitchers of his era."