Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi dies at 85

Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man who built Nintendo into a video game empire, and who is also largely responsible for saving baseball in Seattle, died Thursday in Japan at the age of 85.

Yamauchi was the majority owner of the group that purchased the Mariners from Jeff Smulyan 1992. He later transferred ownership to Redmond based Nintendo of American, but remained in control of the club.

Yamauchi never attended a Mariners game and did not grant interviews to American media, making him something of a mystery owner to Mariners fans, but it’s impossible to ignore the impact he had on the club, which likely was headed out of town had he not stepped in to purchase the team. Yamauchi played a role in paving the way for Japanese players in Major League Baseball, and non-pitchers in particular, by bringing Ichiro Suzuki to the Mariners.

It would be premature to speculate on what effect Yamauchi’s passing will have on the Mariners.

UPDATE: The Mariners issued the following statement on Yamauchi’s death.

“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.”

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