1995 Select Certified Hideo Nomo RC
Nomo actually had several different rookie cards that I could have put in this spot, but I have always liked this one where he is unwinding from his very unique delivery. People will argue that Nomo was not the talent of some of the other players on my list, but he was the second Japanese player to make the Majors and the first to appear in more than 30 years when he appeared for the Dodgers in 1995. If you are looking for a high end Nomo rookie card I suggest checking out his 1995 Topps Finest Refractor or tracking down some of his earlier cards issued in Japan.
There was Nomo-mania followers who went everywhere the Dodgers went in 1995 to see the Japanses right-hander pitch, but the term could also be used to describe the instant popularity of his cards in the hobby. Nomo rookie cards were issued before wax got too high end, but it had also started to expand out from just a few brands with a set or two. Instead, 1995 saw several brands issue many sets, and with it, we as collectors have many Hideo Nomo rookie cards to choose from for our collections.
Nomo-mania never really went away. For a player who ended up having a pretty ho hum career his cards are shockingly popular and sell for way more than what you would think if you took a minute to view his stat sheet. Basically, anything that is a low print, serial numbered, or hard to find is going to be expensive if Nomo is on the front of the card.
I have owned a few relics of Nomo over the years and have never had a problem moving the cards when I wanted to trade them or sell them and I cannot think of a single time that I was disappointed in the haul of cards or cash the card brought back. My key for a good Nomo card, relic or non-relic, is for him to be in a Dodgers uniform. Nomo bounced around a lot during his career, still liked watching him play, but I am not fond of his Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox, or Devil Rays years. The year on the Royals should just be deleted.
Autographs of Nomo are out of sight. There are very very few of them floating around and the best of the bunch is a 2000 Fleer Fresh Ink. The autograph is on-card, but it also picture Nomo as a Tiger. Not one of the finest moments of his career. There was a Certified Materials autograph put out in 2005 and the card pictures Nomo as a Dodger, but it's a sticker autograph.
On The Field Impact-
The first time I ever saw Nomo pitch I was in high school and I watched a Cardinals/Dodgers game on television. The game was in Dodger Stadium. Nomo had electric stuff. Lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, not many hard hit balls. I believe he ended up only pitching a few innings, but I was really impressed at how unhittable his pitching was, even when he was walking people. Later that summer, I actually got a chance to watch Nomo in person, and would describe him as the same: Great stuff, lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The first two seasons of Nomo's North American career were very good, after that he had a lot of struggles. The good version of Hideo Nomo looked something like this:
Nomo experienced a sharp decline in performance after his third season and would spend a few years bouncing around between the Mets, Brewers, Tigers, and Red Sox. There were always some bright spots during those years, pitching a no-hitter for the Red Sox, but he was not a really good pitcher. Nomo had a brief resurgence in the early 2000s after returing to the Dodgers, but he went back to bouncing around to a few teams ending his time in the Majors with the Devil Rays and Royals.
The last time I saw Nomo pitch was one of those sad Minor League moments which is difficult thing to see, but there are always a few players who hang on a little too long. I had experienced my first summer of Durham Bulls baseball in 2006 and got to see some incredibly talented players in the International League that year. At some point that summer I attended a Bulls game against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox-AAA) and got to see Nomo throw a side session before the game. It was not pretty.
Still, Nomo's success in Major League Baseball started a steady stream of Japanese players that seem to show up every year and contribute positively to their team's success. Many fans used to complain that the Japanese players were often over-hyped and were rarely as good as advertised. However, after almost two decades of Japanese players in MLB there have been several that have lived up to their billing and then some. In particular, Ichiro and Yu Darvish.
Ask anyone who ever watched Nomo in person what they remember about the pitcher and they will likely tell you about his crazy wind-up. I am actually tempted to put several cards here, but I will play by my own rules and narrow it down to one. I like coming across Nomo cards where he is pitching, and specifically, I like cards where he is winding up. I could have gone with his 1998 Stadium Club here, but this card shows the wind-up a little bit better...
2001 Topps Chrome Hideo Nomo
If this card were in a Dodgers uniform it would be perfect, but its a really good look at that Nomo windup. The 1995 Pinnacle Zenith is another really good card with a picture of his windup.