Wife of Mariners owner Yamauchi dies

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on August 15, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Shortly after July 23 trade of Ichiro to the New York Yankees, Michiko Yamauchi, wife of Mariners' majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, died in Kyoto, Sportspress Northwest learned from Japanese news sources.

No cause of the July 29 death was reported. The Mariners had no comment.

Since 1992, Yamauchi, 84, has owned 55 percent of the Seattle Mariners, although in 2004 he sold his stake for estate purposes to Nintendo of America in Redmond, a subsidiary of Nintendo of Japan, one of the world's largest producers of video games. He retained operational control of the franchise, but has yet to see the team play in person.

The Mariners opened the major league season in Tokyo against the Oakland A's March 28-29, but Yamauchi did not attend. Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, a former longtime attorney for NOA who has been Yamauchi's representative on the team's board of directors, declined to say why.

Yamauchi and Michiko Inaba were married in Kyoto not long after World War II ended in 1945, according to "Game Over," a 1993 book by David Scheff on the rise of Nintendo of Japan, one of the world's largest makers of video games.

They had three children, daughters Yoko and Fujiko and a son, Katsuhito. The eldest, Yoko, now 61,  married Minoru Arakawa, a graduate of MIT, and the couple moved to the U.S. to help found Nintendo of America. In 1981, they moved NOA's headquarters from New York to a warehouse in Southcenter, from where NOA became a huge success behind the "Donkey Kong" brand of video games.

In December, 1991, Yamauchi agreed to the request of then-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton to lead a group of Seattle-area businessmen who bought the Mariners from Jeff Smulyan for $100 million.

The move was controversial because MLB owners claimed to have rules against foreign investment, but that was not true. MLB was shamed into approving the sale in June 1992. The group remains largely intact -- the fourth-longest-tenured ownership entity in MLB -- and Arakawa remained on the Mariners board until his retirement from NOA in 2002.

The franchise was recently valued at $641 million by a judge in the divorce trial of co-owner Chris Larson, who has the single largest American stake in the club.

At $2.5 billion, Yamauchi was listed No. 491 in Forbes magazine's most recent list of the world's 500 wealthiest people, No. 12 in Japan. But his wealth had been cut considerably by  a 55 percent drop in Nintendo's stock value in 2011.

At the press conference announcing the Ichiro trade, Lincoln, in answer to a question, said speculation that ownership was considering a sale of the club was "absolute nonsense."

That was before the death of Michiko Yamauchi. She had no stake nor apparent interest in the Mariners, and the impact on Yamauchi's desire to retain the Mariners is not yet publicly known.

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