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September 19, 2013 at 6:26 AM

Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi dies at 85

Video games pioneer Hiroshi Yamauchi, who transferred his 55 percent stake in the Mariners to Nintendo of America for estate planning purposes in 2004, has died in Japan at age 85. Yamauchi retained titular control of the team after the shares transfer. Photo Credit: AP

Video games pioneer Hiroshi Yamauchi, who transferred his 55 percent stake in the Mariners to Nintendo of America for estate planning purposes in 2004, has died in Japan at age 85. Yamauchi retained titular control of the team after the shares transfer. Photo Credit: AP

Mariners majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi has died in Japan at age 85. Yamauchi was the patriarch of video games company Nintendo Corp. and owned an estimated 10 percent of its worldwide holdings.

Yamauchi also held a 55 percent stake in a Mariners club he purchased back in 1992, along with a group of minority investors from the Seattle area. Prior to that purchase, it appeared as if the team was about to be offered to a group looking to relocate it to St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Mr. Yamauchi deserves unending thanks for his key role in saving baseball in Seattle,” Mariners minority investor Buck Ferguson said this morning.

Back in 2004, Yamauchi transferred control of his majority shares to Redmond-based Nintendo of America for estate planning purposes, but retained titular control of the ballclub. Mariners officials have insisted that all major decisions had to be run by him first.

So, now is when that estate planning by Yamauchi goes into effect. He had apparently been in failing health for much of the past year. Yamauchi never saw the Mariners play live, even declining to travel from his home in Kyoto to Tokyo in March 2012 when the Mariners played a series of exhibition games there and later opened their season against the Oakland Athletics.

His wife died nearly 14 months ago at age 82.

What does this mean for the ballclub? Likely some changes in the weeks and months ahead.

The largest minority shareholder in the Mariners is Chris Larson, with a 30.6 percent share. After him, billionaire John Stanton is believed to hold a 10 percent stake and could be the most financially able when it comes to acquiring a majority stake in the club — if indeed the majority stake is for sale.

Larson went through an at-times acrimonious divorce two years ago and had suffered heavy financial losses throughout the past decade due to plummeting prices of Microsoft shares he was selling off to cover mounting debt.

The Mariners earlier this year purchased a controlling stake in the ROOT Sports regional sports network, which could take the total worth of the franchise up beyond the $1 billion mark. Yamauchi and the local investors paid $100 million for the team back in 1992, then later added an additional $112 million to cover yearly Safeco Field construction costs.

For now, it’s proper that Mariners fans pay tribute to the man who helped save baseball in Seattle, paying back the city for its loyalty to Nintendo over the years.

Comments | More in ownership | Topics: mariners; majority owner; sale; nintendo;

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