The obituaries for Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died from pneumonia at 85 on Thursday, are being led with the fact that he was the man who turned Nintendo into an international video game giant.
But not far behind is the fact that he owned a majority stake in baseball's Seattle Mariners and that his purchase of the club in 1992 helped avoid a possible move to Florida. Though Yamauchi sold his stake in the club to Nintendo of America in 2004 for estate-planning purposes, Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker writes that Yamauchi "retained titular control of the ballclub and Mariners officials have insisted that all major decisions had to be run by him first."
The interesting thing about Yamauchi's tenure is that he never actually saw the Mariners play a game in person and is believed to be the only owner in major American professional sports to lay boast to that claim. Yamauchi reportedly had an aversion to travel that kept him from ever stepping foot in Safeco Field and a Mariners' trip to play in Tokyo in 2003 was canceled due to the war in Iraq. When the team visited Tokyo last season, team officials said that Yamauchi preferred to watch the games on television.
What Yamauchi's death means for the future of the Mariners remains unclear. Baker reports that Chris Larson, a former Microsoft executive, is the team's largest minority shareholder at 30.6 percent and has oft been cast as a "savior" in the eyes of the fans who didn't appreciate Yamauchi's detached guidance. Larson, however, went through an expensive divorce that could hamper any ability or desire to move into a majority stake.