Tag Archives: Hideo Nomo

Don Nomura chat

On Monday, March 15, player agent Don Nomura joined jballallen.com subscribers for a live chat on the freeing of Hideo Nomo, the business of Japanese baseball, his stepfather, baseball legend Katsuya Nomura and the differences between the way baseball is seen in Japan and in the States.

The freeing of Hideo Nomo

In 1994, Japanese baseball had just instituted free agency under pressure from the most powerful of its 12 teams, the Yomiuri Giants, who like most baseball people in Japan and the majors inferred a kind of social Darwinist vision of baseball: that because MLB was a tougher league, Japanese players were inferior.

Hideo Nomo disproved that belief big time, and Don Nomura was instrumental in giving him the opportunity to play in the States against the wishes of his team, the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes. It did, however, come at a cost Nomura said he was unprepared for.

Nomura tells of how he became connected with Hideo Nomo, Jean Afterman, and the rest of the saga.

One of the side issues was that Katsuya Nomura, Don’s stepfather was then managing the Central League’s Yakult Swallows, and Don’s effort to free Nomo meant that amid the firestorm from the media, the elder Nomura was forced to take a public stand, which Don said was particularly ironic given Katsuya’s love of American baseball.

The realities of Japanese pro baseball

Although there is tremendous quality in Japan’s game thanks to the efforts of players and coaches, domestic and imported, it has some rules that Nomura is not a fan of. The biggest are: a) Japan’s limit on four imported players in a game, and b) it’s reserve system that allows a team to keep a player contract for however many years it takes him to achieve seven-plus years of first-team service time.

When asked about whether it might be a tough sell to have a team of imports in Japan, Nomura said, “What are we looking at? A baseball game or the color of the skin?”

Here’s Nomura on what he would do if he were put in charge of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Japanese baseball is full of potential

One of the ironies of Nippon Professional Baseball is that it is a magnificent structure, but one whose rules have more holes in them than Albert Hall. Hideo Nomo was able to make his getaway because nobody assumed a player would.

Japan’s contract structure allows any player, amateur or professional, who knows the rules to negotiate the most remarkable deals with the team that wants to sign him. This is a massive difference from how it is in MLB. There — even international professionals — who are defined as amateurs by MLB and its players union — can only be guaranteed a minimum minor league contract and a signing bonus that is part of a team’s capped maximum.

What Japanese amateurs need to know

Asked what he thought Japan’s players union could do for the game, Nomura said, “Educate the players.”

What about international amateurs

Although MLB scouts keep tabs on Japanese amateurs they might want to recruit, NPB teams spend virtually no energy on scouring the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean for amateur players who might turn pro in Japan.

However, a number of people have suggested that Japan may be the best place in the world for an amateur ballplayer to turn pro, not only from the living conditions, the quality of play and coaching but also from the contractual possibilities Japan offers that MLB teams cannot match.

Nomura said it was a huge opportunity, and that Japan was failing badly to take advantage of it.

The most important lesson

When Katsuya Nomura died a year ago, Nomura wrote that his stepfather taught him more lessons than he could count, the biggest of which, Don said, was not about baseball.

Japan’s Rule 5

On Thursday, the players union held a working group session with NPB officials, when they discussed bringing about a kind of Rule 5 draft that would make surplus talent available to other teams. And though it might seem like something NPB owners would never go for, this one is probably going to happen.

And the reason it’s going to happen is that while NPB is defined by its rules, it is governed by organizational inertia that keeps it moving forward the way it always has, at least until it’s challenged. The reason NPB is going to accept this is because the union is likely holding a gun to its head.

When talks began on this subject a year ago, there was hope it could be implemented in 2020, but the coronavirus intervened, preventing NPB from instituting its version of MLB’S Rule 5 draft. According to Nikkan Sports, the plan last year focused on each team nominating eight players for the draft so that they might find teams willing to give them more playing time.

“The association is proposing setting specific qualifications in terms of service time in days and years, but that is the area where the two sides are farthest apart,” said Tadahito Mori, the association’s secretary general. “I would like to have it implemented this season.”

That, however, seems unlikely. Although the teams are not unwilling to talk, they don’t seem to have much interest in moving forward while the coronavirus pandemic remains a concern. But, NPB is just stalling.

The reason the union is going to get what it wants is that NPB already has a draft for players that teams have no plans for, called the Selection Draft. It is still on the books, and I see the new “breakthrough draft” as a way for NPB to negotiate its way out of a rule it wished didn’t exist but does.

The Selection Draft is supposed to be held within seven to 10 days after the new player draft, and each team is required to make one fifth of its roster available for other teams to pick through and claim if they so choose for the cost of one-year’s salary and up to 2 million yen, plus consumption tax, currently 10 percent.

I can easily see the union going to owners and say, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Give us a draft that suits our purposes, or we’ll force you to do the one that’s currently on the books.”

In my experience, Japanese unions make their biggest breakthroughs in Japan when companies are careless about their own rules. When I was an indentured servant at Yomiuri, the union reached a settlement in the area of $270,000 – not because of the blatantly hideous labor policies that really existed but because of a poorly worded contract that represented a trivial violation of the law.

To avoid a court case and a much costlier settlement the company agreed to pay its contract staff two years of overtime and night pay it had been holding back and never would have paid without the trivial contractual miss-step.

Returning to baseball, this is just the latest example of NPB’s not really knowing what its own rules are. We’ve seen over and over the gaps that exist between the way the owners insist the game works and the way NPB’s own rules are actually written.

The owners “knew” Hideo Nomo couldn’t just retire and play in the States. Then they knew that agents were not allowed to represent players in contract negotiations. But those were just things owners said that had no basis in reality.

So as unlikely as it may seem, I suspect that either the players association is going to get its draft THIS YEAR or the owners are going to once more face up to their own incompetence.