DETROIT -- Mariners principal owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, the retired chairman of Nintendo, has passed away. He was 85.
Yamauchi died Thursday morning of pneumonia at a hospital in central Japan, the Mariners confirmed.
"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.
"Mr. Yamauchi will be remembered for his role in moving forward the opportunity for Japanese baseball players to play in the United States. He will forever be a significant figure in Mariners Baseball history."
Yamauchi helped keep the Mariners in Seattle when he stepped in and purchased the team in 1992 at a time former owner Jeff Smulyan was looking to move the club to Tampa Bay.
Yamauchi got involved as a favor to the Seattle area, which was home to his Redmond, Wash., based Nintendo of America.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am saddened by the passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "This visionary businessman quietly played a pivotal role in preserving Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest for generations, and we are grateful for his selfless gesture to help the fans of Seattle following a period of uncertainty for their local baseball Club.
"We are proud not only that he made the Mariners the first Major League Club with international ownership, but also that the franchise continues to represent its region with such distinction and strong global roots. I extend my deepest condolences to Mr. Yamauchi's family, friends and business associates."
Under Yamauchi's ownership, the Mariners built a strong relationship with Japan and had several outstanding Japanese players sign with the club, including 10-time All-Star right fielder Ichiro Suzuki and current standout right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. Other Japanese players during Yamauchi's tenure have included former closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, catcher Kenji Johjima and infielder Munenori Kawasaki.
Yamauchi's purchase of the Mariners made Seattle the first MLB club to have non-North American ownership. He passed day-to-day control of the ballclub in 2004 to Nintendo of America, led by Howard Lincoln, who is chairman & chief executive officer of the Mariners.
Yamauchi is most notable for his accomplishments at Nintendo, which he ran from 1949 to 2002, turning it from a playing-card company into an international video-game giant. Yamauchi helped bring about Nintendo's growth, developing the Family Computer and Game Boy consoles.
One of the richest men in Japan, Yamauchi stayed on as an adviser at Nintendo after 2002, but his role at the company had diminished over time.