The Seattle Mariners are mourning the loss of Hiroshi Yamauchi, the team’s principal owner and retired chairman of Nintendo, MLB.com reports.
Yamauchi died on Sept. 18 of pneumonia at the age of 85.
“The Seattle Mariners organization is deeply saddened by the passing today of Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi,” the club said in a statement. “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.”
Yamauchi purchased the team in 1992 when former owner Jeff Smulyan was looking to move the club to Tampa Bay. He got involved because Nintendo of America based in Redmond, Wash., near Seattle.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am saddened by the passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi,” 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.”
Under Yamauchi’s ownership, the Mariners had outstanding Japanese players sign with the club, including 10-time All-Star right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki and current standout right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. Other Japanese players during Yamauchi’s tenure have included former closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, catcher Kenji Johjima, and infielder Munenori Kawasaki.
Yamauchi’s purchase of the Mariners made Seattle the first MLB club to have non-North American ownership.