Former Seattle Mariners owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, 85, has passed away according to reports coming out of Japan.
Yamauchi took over Nintendo from his ailing grandfather in 1949. He turned a playing card company into an iconic international brand, selling video games that filled most of our childhoods. None of us knew who Yamauchi was, but we were all aware of his product. Some of our parents even worked for his company — at Nintendo of America here in the Seattle area.
The tale of how he came into our lives is legend around these parts: Senator Slade Gorton — desperate to save baseball in the Pacific Northwest — begins reaching out to local businessmen for help. When the bottom of that well is reached and found to be dry, he looks a little further. All the way to Japan, in fact. Gorton was able to get Yamauchi on board to purchase the Mariners.
Baseball was initially reluctant, having never allowed a foreign owner before. As the team looked destined to pack up and move to Florida, the potential ownership group made their push. Baseball would finally agree, with the condition that Yamauchi not run the day-to-day operations of the team from afar, instead assigning a proxy ownership group of Americans. This was fine by Yamauchi, and it’s why we have the Seattle Mariners to invest so much love, effort and care into.
Yamauchi sold his shares in the team to NoA in 2004, but maintained his position in the organization.
We may not always agree with what his chosen proxy has done, but on this day we should thank Mr. Yamauchi for the great gift he has given us. Revisionist historians will try to change his motive, telling you about how his desire to spin a profit exceeded that of his love for baseball. They’re wrong, though. The facts are out there if you want to find them. This team hasn’t made a bunch of people in business suits rich. This team hasn’t cried small market while stashing profits.
Do you want to know what the history books should read?
Without Hiroshi Yamauchi, “The Double” might have led to a namesake street winding though Tampa, the sweetest swing any of us ever saw could have been celebrated in the south, that laser out of Star Wars would have shot out of the arm of some import we’re not privy to and the King’s Court would be a thing some of us might have heard of by now, maybe.
Thank you, Mr. Yamauchi. I love the Seattle Mariners more than any grown man should love something as trivial as a baseball team. But I do. And all of us have your gift to cherish for many years to cone.
Rest in peace.
Jason A. Churchill
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