The Yamauchi Effect
Hiroshi Yamauchi, a man of great character and wealth, died this week at age 85. He had been the majority owner of the Mariners and was the former CEO of Nintendo. He saved baseball in Seattle and for that every Mariners fan is indebted to him. A little background, mostly courtesy of Wikipedia, helps to understand who he was, what he was, and our connection to him.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, the grandson of the company’s founder, is credited with transforming Nintendo from a small card-making company in Japan to a multi-billion dollar video game company. He also became the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team in 1992; the current CEO of the Mariners is former Nintendo of America chairman, Howard Lincoln. As of April 2013, Forbes estimated Yamauchi’s net worth at $2.1 billion; he was #13 on this year’s Japan rich list and 491st richest in the world, having a net worth of approximately $2.5 billion. At the time of his death, Yamauchi was the largest shareholder of Nintendo, reputedly with ownership of 10 percent of its stock. Satoru Iwata is now the Global President, Representative Director, and CEO of Nintendo of America and not a member of the founding Yamauchi family. The name Nintendo can be roughly translated from Japanese to English as “leave luck to heaven.”
In the early 1990s, the Seattle Mariners were available for sale and Washington State’s Senator Slade Gorton asked Nintendo of America to find a Japanese investor who would keep the club in Seattle. Yamauchi offered to buy it, even though he had never been to a baseball game. Although the owner accepted the offer, the baseball commissioner and ownership committee were strongly opposed to the idea of a non-North American owner and did not approve the deal. However, following the strong support and sentiments of the people of Seattle and press, and having the decision of disapproval be deemed as racist, the commissioner formally approved the deal, under the condition that Yamauchi had less than 50% of the vote. In 2000, the club made its first profit of $2.6 million since its acquisition by Yamauchi. Despite his ownership of the club, Yamauchi never attended a Mariners game. However, when Ichiro Suzuki joined the club he would meet with Yamauchi-san every year in the off-season. Some believe that a three-year extension given to catcher Kenji Johjima during the 2008 season was a result of Yamauchi’s influence.
On May 4, 2009, The DirecTV Group Inc. said it would become a part of Liberty Media’s entertainment unit, part of which would then be spun off as a separate company called DirecTV, which would own FSN Northwest. In December 2010, the name “Root Sports” was chosen for three DirecTV Sports Networks, including FSN Northwest (the other two are in Pittsburgh and Denver). The rebranding was completed on April 1, 2011 with The Dan Patrick Show as the first show under the Root Sports branding. In April 2013, the Seattle Mariners announced that it would acquire a controlling interest in Root Sports Northwest. DirecTV Sports Networks will retain a minority stake in the network and will continue to manage it; the Root Sports branding will be retained. Additionally, the team extended its contract with the network until the end of the 2030 season. Root Sports has coverage of the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers, Utah Jazz (via Root Sports Utah), and local coverage of the Pac-12, Western Athletic, Big Sky, Mountain West, and West Coast conferences. In 2008, FSN started broadcasting WHL hockey. Root Sports is still affiliated with Fox Sports Networks to secure its programming arrangements with the aforementioned collegiate athletic conferences.
Jon Paul Morosi at Fox Sports has considered what effect Yamauchi’s passing might have on the team, stating that: “Now without Yamauchi’s influence, numerous outcomes are possible. Nintendo of America and/or the trust beneficiaries could push for a sale of the 55-percent stake – likely for hundreds of millions of dollars. A minority investor such as Chris Larson or John W. Stanton could buy enough shares to obtain a controlling interest. Even if the ownership shares remain static, Lincoln could resign or be forced out because of the team’s dwindling attendance and diminished profile in the market.
“Former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick – recently inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame as an executive – would be a popular choice to assume a high-level role within the organization. Gillick won World Series titles with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies. He is a senior adviser with the Phillies but still lives in Seattle.
‘People here think very fondly of him,’ said Scott Weitz, a Seattle-area attorney who has a sports law practice. ‘I don’t think anybody would be disappointed if he took on a role with the team.’ Weitz believes there’s still a good chance Lincoln will be the Mariners’ CEO on Opening Day. But it’s apparent that Yamauchi’s death has come at a delicate moment for the organization he saved 21 years ago. ‘No doubt about it,’ Weitz said, when asked if the franchise has arrived at a possible inflection point. ‘There’s a lot of soul searching going on over there: How are we going to do this? If anything, it increases the chances of a sale.’ “
So they said
“Yasiel Puig hit a majestic home run Wednesday but also had two mental errors early in the Dodgers’ loss to the Diamondbacks.” ESPN LA
So it’s not just Mariners’ rookies making errors, whew!
“… barring any obvious bat improvements on the DH and part-time 1B/outfield front, there’s nothing wrong with having Ibanez and Morales return to the team in 2014. They were not the “roster construction” problem this year. The guys who did not perform to minimal expectations in starting roles were the problem.” Geoff Baker at Seattle Times
“Mr. Yamauchi deserves unending thanks for his key role in saving baseball in Seattle,” Mariners minority investor Buck Ferguson said this morning.
“But I can think of more substantial hardships to lament than a big league baseball team stumbling through another summer. One would be a summer without big league baseball.” John McGrath at The News Tribune on the death of Hiroshi Yamauchi
Mariner’s potential off-season targets
Mark Saxon at ESPN LA says, “the best pitcher in the Japanese league has already lured both Southern California teams across the Pacific. The Dodgers, like the Angels, have scouted Japanese right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, according to a source. Tanaka is 21-0 with a 1.24 ERA for the Rakuten Eagles and he could benefit from what is a mediocre crop of free-agent pitchers on the market this fall. Speculation is that teams could have to pay $25 million or more to Tanaka’s team just to win the right to negotiate with him. The Dodgers paid Ryu’s Korean team $26 million before signing him to a six-year, $36 million deal in December.”
Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers was due to earn $6MM this season before his 50-day PED suspension. This will end his contract with the club, as this was his option year that the Tigers had picked up. He had contributed 3.6 fWAR before the suspension so the team can’t complain too much. Next year will be his age-32 season and Jose Iglesias is looking like the future for the Tigers. Even though he’s done the crime and served his time he will still not get as good of a contract as he would have if the episode had never occurred. This will make him one of the mid-market-value, proven big leaguers that the Red Sox have shown to be sound investments this year. He’ll find a home.
By the numbers
Part of the Rangers disappointment this season is due to the fact that their DH spot has only yielded a .250/.318/.392 triple slash line. The $10MM plus a $1MM buyout of a 2014 option that Lance Berkman was given for this season has pretty much gutted his contribution and the Plan B’s all struggled obviously.
“Brandon Morrow posted a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts before a nerve issue in his pitching elbow effectively ended his season.”
Cliff Corcoran at SI.com
Chat Review – Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs
Comment From Danborski: Who would you take at 2B between Franklin and Ackley?
Dan Szymborski: Probably Franklin at this point.
Comment From Eli: Does Ron Washington survive this collapse two years in a row?
Dan Szymborski: If the Rangers collapse, I think he’s toast. GMs generally get 1 sacrificial manager. Sometimes 2, but usually but they usually get 1.