Seattle Mariners principal owner Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away Thursday in his native Japan, the team has announced. He was 85 years old.
Yamauchi, the retired chairman of video-game giant Nintendo who purchased the team from Jeff Smulyan in 1992 to help keep the club in the Pacific Northwest, had been suffering from pneumonia.
"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."
Yamauchi's presence was instrumental in the Mariners' ability to lure several top Japanese players to the major leagues, most notably 10-time All-Star and 2001 AL MVP Ichiro Suzuki. Current pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, former All-Star closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, catcher Kenji Johjima and reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa also had varying degrees of success during their tenures in Seattle.
"Mr. Yamauchi will be remembered for his role in moving forward the opportunity for Japanese baseball players to play in the United States," the statement continued. "He will forever be a significant figure in Mariners Baseball history."
Seattle became the first major league team to be owned by a non-North American entity under Yamauchi, who relinquished daily operations of the Mariners to Nintendo of America in 2004.