In 1995 the Los Angeles Dodgers signed 26 year old Hideo Nomo from the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League. Nomo had pitched professionally in Japan for five seasons and was very successful. Because of his experience, Nomo was able to bypass the minor leagues and have an immediate impact on the Dodgers and the rest of baseball. Nomo ended up winning the Rookie of the Year and his impact on the game of baseball grew exponentially.
Many international players had come to America and played major league baseball before Nomo, but it was Nomo's immediate success that showed everyone just how good at baseball other nations had started to become. His impact seemed to open the floodgates for all teams to look overseas and bring the best baseball players in the world to the best baseball league in the world.
Since that time we have seen Asian players such as Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani come in and become some of the best players in the history of major league baseball. But the talent has crossed the ocean in both directions. Some very talented MLB players have played overseas to either refine their skills or to extend their careers.
One of the 1990's best sluggers, Cecil Fielder, spent a season with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League in 1989. Fielder had played parts of four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, but struggled to find playing time and only appeared in 220 games in that time. In Fielder's season in Japan, he slashed .302/.403/.628 with a 1.031 OPS and 38 home runs. The next season he signed with the Detroit Tigers and led all of baseball in home runs (51) and RBI's (132). He led baseball again in those categories in 1991 (44 homers 133 RBI's) and was the MVP runner-up both seasons.
Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage even spent a season in Japan, also in 1990, with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the JPPL. Gossage had spent parts of the 18 previous seasons pitching very successfully in the majors but used his time in Japan to hone his craft and was able to pitch four more seasons in the bigs.
On Saturday, it was reported that Rougned Odor had signed to play the 2024 season with the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional League. Odor has spent time with the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres. He may have had his best years with the Rangers, but his 2022 season with the O's had some memorable moments, like this walk-off homer he hit in the bottom of the 13th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Odor is a great clubhouse presence that can provide veteran leadership to any baseball team. He has joined a long list of American baseball players who have gone to other countries to keep living their boyhood dreams of playing professional baseball, a list that also includes Orioles fan favorite Adam Jones.
Even though Odor already has a decade of major league experience, he turns just 30 years old this February. He was thought of highly enough to play his first full major league season at 20 years old and I'm sure he's hoping his trip to Japan will help him return to the player he once was. There's still plenty of time for him to make a comeback to MLB, the way so many before him have and I wish him all the best in his next endeavor.