Stocked with Japanese players, the club lost money and most of its games. When Nomura sold his share of the Spurs in '92, pitcher Mac Suzuki asked him to be his agent. Suzuki is now a Seattle Mariners prospect, playing Double A ball.
There was another Japanese phenom Nomura wanted to bring to the States: Katsuhiro Maeda, a 24-year-old Seibu Lions pitcher with dyed blond hair and a fastball clocked in the mid-90s. Last November, Nomura asked Maeda to retire from the Japanese game, as Nomo did. But Seibu rejected Maeda's letter of resignation, so Nomura had the righthander sit out the 1996 season. Seibu then sold its rights to Maeda to the New York Yankees, and on May 14 the Yankees signed the pitcher to a minor league contract that included a $1.5 million signing bonus. "Katsuhiro is the Dennis Rodman of Japanese ball," Nomura says. "I like his uniqueness. The Lions did not like his uniqueness."
Nor do they like Nomura's. "We hear a lot of players say they think it would be regrettable if agents came into the picture," Masuru Madate, administrator of legal affairs for the Japanese league, has said. "As players, they are part of a family, but introducing an agent destroys the family feel and reduces the whole relationship between players and managers to just a cold contract." Yet one player, requesting anonymity, says, "If I had Nomo's talent or guts, I'd hire Nomura as my agent."
Japanese management is especially unhappy with the way Nomura has championed the rights of players imported from the Dominican Republic. Nomura says that nonwhite foreign players in Japan have been asked to sign seven-year nonnegotiable contracts for, at best, the minimum salary received by Japanese players. One of the Dominicans is Robinson Checo, a former Nomura client who pitches for the Hiroshima Carp. After Nomura learned last year that Checo was earning less than half the minimum salary of Japanese players, he charged in the press that Hiroshima had impounded Checo's passport (to which the Carp admitted) and forged his signature on his contract. Then Nomura negotiated a series of incentive raises for Checo. Since then the Carp have filed a $1 million defamation suit against Nomura. Checo, no longer with Nomura, has re-upped with the Carp on condition that they send him next year to the Boston Red Sox.
"Nomura may think he can challenge Japanese baseball rules," says one league official, "but he may run into problems trying to do the same thing in Japanese ball that Marvin Miller did in the U.S. major leagues. To U.S. owners, their teams are top priority. Teams here are just corporate subsidiaries, priority number 4,325. Japanese baseball takes care of problems as they crop up. If Nomura becomes a problem, he will be taken care of."
Nomura shrugs off this not-so-veiled threat. "My daily job is to get Japanese teams to talk to me," he says with Zenlike equanimity. "They recognize I exist, but they won't admit they recognize I exist."
He splits his time between L.A. and Tokyo, where until recently he managed a youth baseball team. Under Nomura's helm, the club won the national championship for 13-and 14-year-olds four years in a row. Nomura's approach to coaching was decidedly un-Japanese. Instead of one pitcher, he had four. He let his players chew gum and spit on the field. And he encouraged them to speak up.
"I don't say it's good," Nomura says slyly. "But it's breaking the tradition."