Hiroshi Yamauchi’s years as majority owner of the Seattle Mariners have been so quiet and stable that it’s easy to forget the caustic chaos of his predecessor.
In the early 1990s, Jeff Smulyan agitated to ship the Mariners off to Florida. Seattle, he claimed, wasn’t a good baseball town.
Yamauchi, and a team of local investors, swept in to prove him wildly wrong. The past 21 years — with teams both golden and rusted — cemented fan loyalty, first in the Kingdome and then in the baseball palace of Safeco Field.
Yamauchi, famously, never saw a Mariners game, even when they played near his home in Japan, before his death on Thursday at 85. He preferred go, the Japanese board game, according to a rare interview in 1992 with The Seattle Times.
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His ownership, instead, was a civic thank-you for the region’s embrace of his company, Redmond-based Nintendo of America.
“It’s not because of my contribution which results in the Mariners remaining in Seattle, because it’s the people of Seattle making the effort to keep the team there. Therefore, it’s not what I did for Seattle, it’s what Seattle people did for themselves,” he said in 1992.
It is easy to be cynical about noblesse oblige, about the extended on-field problems.
But Yamauchi staged a ninth-inning rally for baseball in Seattle. Steady ownership ensured the Mariners are as permanently Seattle as the salt air.
For that, a thank you in return, Mr. Yamauchi.