The long-time majority owner of the Mariners, Hiroshi Yamauchi, has passed away at the age of 85. Yamauchi, who had been said to be in poor health recently is reported to have died of pneumonia at a hospital in central Japan.
Yamauchi, the former president of Nintendo, bought the team in 1992 in a move that is credited as saving baseball in Seattle. The Mariners had all but been moved to the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla. area, which had a facility ready and waiting when Yamauchi stepped in and purchased the team as a thank-you of sorts to the area which housed Nintendo of America.
The Mariners have released the following statement regarding the passing of Yamauchi:
"The Seattle Mariners organization is deeply saddened by the passing today of Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi. His leadership of Nintendo is legendary worldwide. His decision in 1992 to purchase the Mariners franchise and keep Major League Baseball in Seattle as a "gesture of goodwill to the citizens of the Pacific Northwest" is legendary in this region.
"Mr. Yamauchi will be remembered for his role in moving forward the opportunity for Japanese baseball players to play in the United States. He will forever be a significant figure in Mariners Baseball history."
As a part of his estate planning he transferred his shares to Nintendo of America in August 2004. Despite the move, Yamauchi has been considered the owner of the team since its purchase.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am saddened by the passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "This visionary businessman quietly played a pivotal role in preserving Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest for generations, and we are grateful for his selfless gesture to help the fans of Seattle following a period of uncertainty for their local baseball Club.
"We are proud not only that he made the Mariners the first Major League Club with international ownership, but also that the franchise continues to represent its region with such distinction and strong global roots. I extend my deepest condolences to Mr. Yamauchi's family, friends and business associates."
Yamauchi was preceded in death by his wife, who passed away last July, and is survived by his eldest son.