Thoughts of his eventual retirement, which was announced Wednesday, had lingered since January 2014, when longtime team president and close friend Chuck Armstrong retired.
Howard Lincoln had no official plan for his retirement, but he hoped it would come after a Mariners postseason appearance.
Now he hopes to settle for the team being in the thick of the playoff race in September when he steps down as chairman and chief executive officer.
As part of Wednesday’s announcement of a pending ownership change from majority shareholder Nintendo of America to the minority-ownership group led by John Stanton, there will be a change in leadership.
Howard Lincoln bio
Full name: Howard Charles Lincoln
Born: Oakland, Calif.
College: California (BA and law degree)
Business: Practiced in Seattle as an attorney and was chairman of Nintendo of America.
Mariners: Instrumental in forming a local ownership group that bought the Mariners in 1992, keeping the team in Seattle. … Mariners won first AL West title in 1995. … Replaced John Ellis as club’s chairman in 1999. … Mariners tied a major-league record in 2001 by winning 116 games. … In 2013 Mariners acquired majority stake in a regional sports network, which retained the ROOT Sports name.
Did you know? At age 13, Lincoln posed for a famous Norman Rockwell painting, The Scoutmaster, in 1956. He was later an Eagle Scout.
Lincoln, the organization’s longtime CEO, is retiring once the sale is finalized. That should happen after MLB’s Aug. 16-18 quarterly meetings. At that time, Stanton will take over as chairman and CEO.
“It has been honor to serve as chairman and CEO of the Seattle Mariners for the past 17 years,” Lincoln said Wednesday during a news conference at Safeco Field. “After the sale is closed, I look forward to continuing on as a member of our ownership group and representing Nintendo of America as a minority shareholder.”
Once the sale is finalized, Lincoln’s daily duties will be that of a retired grandfather. At 76, he has given more than 30 years of his day-to-day life to Nintendo and the Mariners. Now it’s time for himself.
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“Well, most of my friends are either retired or dead,” he said. “I intend to join the retired ranks. I’m going to play more golf, I’m going to do a lot more fly-fishing, and I’m going to spend a lot more time with my family, including my two grandsons.”
Thoughts of his eventual retirement had lingered since January 2014, when longtime team president and close friend Chuck Armstrong retired.
When asked about retirement in September during the hiring news conference for general manager Jerry Dipoto, Lincoln said: “I don’t have any plans to retire. I’d sure like to retire after we got to the World Series or make the playoffs.”
Postseason or not, Lincoln decided it was time to step down and made his feelings known to Nintendo executives.
“In conversations, I told them I was very anxious to retire,” he said. “I thought that the time had come. As we discussed what Nintendo should do, we decided now was the time to approach our other partners and see if they were interested in and had the capacity to acquire Nintendo’s majority interest in the team and regional sports network.”
Lincoln became affiliated with the Mariners in 1992 as part of The Baseball Club of Seattle, LP, that purchased the franchise from Jeff Smulyan, who had intentions of relocating the team to Tampa Bay. Lincoln represented the Nintendo Corporation — the largest financial backer of the group.
He took over full time as the team’s CEO before the 2000 season, replacing John Ellis. During his tenure as CEO, the team made the playoffs just twice — his first season in 2000 and the magical season of 2001. The Mariners have the longest postseason drought in baseball.
“I’d have liked a few mulligans along the way,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln was relentlessly loyal to Armstrong, and together they were the decision-makers in a series of failed management moves, including the hirings and prolonged retentions of general managers Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik.
He also made the regrettable comment about placing himself on the “hot seat” in 2007, released a letter condemning NBA/NHL arena efforts in the Sodo area and mentioned taking “painful” financial hits and not retaining bonuses for losing seasons. None of that endeared him to a weary and frustrated fan base.
“You always have a few regrets,” he said. “There are some trades maybe we shouldn’t have made, things like that. But you can’t second-guess yourself, you have to move forward. I’m really excited about what I’m seeing now. Quite frankly wish I would have seen this 10 years ago.”
He admitted that for all the work he did with Nintendo in the 1980s and ’90s that helped the company grow into a power, his success likely would be defined by his time with the Mariners. His pursuit of another postseason appearance never materialized.
“But I’m very proud of playing a part in saving the Mariners for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “I feel very good about how our ownership group has stabilized this franchise to really ensure baseball will be here for generations to come.
“Obviously, I’m as frustrated as all of us are about the fact we’ve not been able to get back to the playoffs since 2001. That’s something that does bother me, but I am really excited about this team and how it’s playing. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”
Mariners under Howard Lincoln
• July 1, 1992: The Baseball Club of Seattle, LP, assumes control of the Mariners. The board of directors includes John Ellis (chairman), Minoru Arakawa, Chris Larson, Howard Lincoln, John McCaw, Frank Shrontz and Craig Watjen. Chuck Armstrong is named president.
• March 30, 1994: King County executive Gary Locke appoints a 28-member task force to assess the need for, cost, potential location and advisability of public investment in a new Major League Baseball stadium.
• Jan. 11, 1995: Stadium Alternative Task Force recommends public involvement in financing a new MLB stadium.
• Sept. 9, 1995: A proposal to increase the sales tax by .01% in King County to pay for construction of the ballpark is narrowly defeated by voters.
• Oct. 2, 1995: Seattle wins its first American League West pennant.
• Oct. 14, 1995: A special session of the Washington state legislature authorizes a different funding package for a new stadium that includes a King County food and beverage tax in restaurants and bars and a car rental surcharge, a ballpark admissions tax, a credit against the state sales tax and sale of special stadium-themed license plates.
• Oct. 23, 1995: King County Council approves the funding package and establishes the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD) to own the ballpark and oversee design and construction.
• June 4, 1998: Naming rights for the ballpark are sold for $40 million to Seattle-based Safeco Corporation. The ballpark is christened Safeco Field.
• June 27, 1999: Mariners play final game in Kingdome, defeating the Texas Rangers 5-2.
• July 15, 1999: Mariners play first game at Safeco Field, losing 3-2 to the San Diego Padres.
• Sept. 27, 1999: Lincoln selected chairman and CEO. Ellis appointed chairman emeritus.
• Oct. 25, 1999: Pat Gillick named executive vice president and general manager of baseball operations.
• Feb. 14, 2000: Lincoln retires from position as chairman of Nintendo of America, Inc. to devote full efforts to Mariners.
• Oct. 6, 2001: Seattle ties a major-league record by recording its 116th win of the season.
• Nov. 7, 2003: Bill Bavasi named executive vice president and general manager of baseball operations.
• Oct. 22, 2008: Jack Zduriencik named executive VP and general manager of baseball operations.
• Oct. 1, 2011: The Limited Tax General Obligation bonds for the construction of Safeco Field are retired, five years ahead of schedule.
• Aug. 15, 2012: Felix Hernandez throws the first perfect game in Mariners history.
• April 16, 2013: Mariners acquire majority stake in regional sports network, which retains the ROOT Sports name.
• Feb. 1, 2014: Kevin Mather named president & chief operating officer.
• Sept. 28, 2015: Jerry Dipoto named executive VP and general manager of Baseball operations.