Why Nintendo bought an entire US baseball team


“This will have to go down as the oddest
ownership in Seattle history and one of the oddest in professional sports nationwide. Yamauchi was never a baseball fan. He never saw the Mariners play. He never engaged at all. But people really need to keep in mind that
he saved baseball in Seattle.” Hi there, welcome to Thomas Game Docs! So, Nintendo have made some weird comporate
moves over the years. Some have paid off, like a console with a
motion-sensitive tv remote for a controller, “we would like to play” others, not so much “Virtual Boy – see it now in 3d!” But, not all of Nitnedno’s much-loved weirdness
comes down to corporate gambles. Sometimes a guy just wants to buy a baseball
team, god damnit! And so, today I’d like to tell you the story
of Nintendo’s or rather, one man at the helm of Nintendo’s 100 million dollar purchase
of a Seattle baseball team. “Live from Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan, Pass Sports presents Major League Baseball” Let us travel back to the year 1991. In Seattle America, the local baseball team, the
Seattle mariners, had fallen on hard times. They had only been only established in 1977,
and during these first 14 years, the team had struggled to attain any meaningful long-term
success. And so, the team’s current owner, a man
by the name of Jeff Smulyan, was becoming unsettled. What was the future of his team? Not long afterwards, he stumbled upon what
he thought to be the answer to this question. A rich businessmen from Tampa, Florida, called
Frank Morsani came to him with a proposal. “Sell your ownership position to me, and
move the team to Florida,” he suggested. Now, this would be a 3000 mile move, but the
deal was hard to resist. The future of the team in Seattle was looking
grim – this seemed to be his silver bullet. And so, Smulyan began preparing the paperwork
for this deal to go ahead. According to some early evidence, it seemed
likely that the move would be approved by the American Baseball League. Everything was finally looking up for Jeff. However, one local politician was unhappy. A Washington senator by the name of Slade
Gorton decided he could not let this deal go through. This was his local team, the community’s
local team – and so, he resolved to use everything in his power to prevent the 3000 mile move. He started searching for new owners, potential
owners, to take the team’s helm, as it were. But, this was an expensive proposition, and
a risky one, too. The team hadn’t exactly been successful,
and then needed a heck of a lot of money to keep them in seattle. As one newspaper wrote at the time, they needed
an angel. Luckily for Gorton, he had an angel of his
own. On December 23, 1991, Gorton received a phone
call that he described as “the best Christmas gift of my life.” Hiroshi Yamauchi, CEO of Nintendo, from all
the way over in Japan, 8000 kilometers from where the Seattle mariners were based, would
contribute $100 million to the purchase of the team. Why? Well, Seattle was the home of Nintendo of
America, where the company had built their international empire. If it hadn’t been for Seattle, perhaps Nintendo’s
games would’ve stayed in Japan. As Yamauchi explained in an interview, “Japan
has the United States to thank for its miraculous postwar recovery and economic growth, and
Nintendo has also been allowed to do business in America. I owe a great debt to the United States, and
I want to do everything in my power to pay it back.” Yamauchi didn’t see this purchase as a business
investment, he saw at as a form of community service, you might say. But beyond that, Yamauchi had a debt to repay. In Nintendo’s early days of massive video
game success, piracy had been rampant, to say the least. Knockoff Nintendo products were flooding the
market, and consumers were often struggling to tell the real deal from all these fakes. But one US senator had stepped in to the company’s
aid. The chairman of the congress committee of
the US senate passed legislation that massively curbed this intellectual piracy, helping Nintendo
out a great deal. And the identity of this senator. Slade Gorton. This purchase was Yamauchi’s chance to properly
thank him for what he did for the company. Alright, so the deal was settled! Yamauchi would contribute $100 million to
the purchase, longside a further $50 million that Slade Gorton collected from local, smaller
donors. The day was saved, as it were. Or at least, that’s what Slade and Yamauchi
thought. Unfortunately, the battle wasn’t quite over
yet. Their next big opponent was, uh, racism. It seemed inconceivable to the American Baseball
League that the Mariners could be sold to a foreign owner, much less an owner from Japan,
of all places! Baseball execs talked of “protecting baseball
from Japan.” Yeah, they weren’t even trying to veil their
xenophobia. These guys were just racist – they didn’t
want a Japanese owner to buy this US team. And they were powerful too. It seemed like they might be able to put a
stop to this investment. Their deal was grinding to a halt. Maybe all would be lost. But in the face of all of this, one man came
to Nintendo’s aid. And it’s someone you might not expect. The son of the president at the time. George W Bush. Bush convinced all the other baseball team
owners that this buyout was the best thing for the team. If these owners really cared about baseball,
they needed to vote to approve the deal. And it ended up working. The sale was approved. Now, Yamauchi was initially limited to a less
than 50% stake in the team, despite investing considerable investing considerably over 50%
of the cash. But, the fact that this sale was approved
at all was a minor miracle considering the climate back then. And under this new ownership, the team experience
a huge boom, success for the next 10 years, the likes of which the Mariners had never
experienced in their last 10. Now, in 2004, Hiroshi Yamauchi decided to
sell his stake in the company directly to Nintendo of America, since this was, after
all, the company directly based in the Seattle area. And over coming years, the company brought
a few Nintendo touches to the Mariners games. They regularly brought out the Mario mascot,
who would often parade around the pitch, much to the delight of any kids in the audience. Oh, and in 2007, they even rolled out this
DS app called the Fan Network. For a small fee, anyone with a DS could order
food and drinks, look up information about any players from the Mariners, and even watch
the live TV broadcast of the game. Pretty nifty! But, all good things must come to an end. And so, in 2016, Nintendo finally decided
to give up their ownership of the team, at least most of it. As this article states, they kept a 10% stake,
just in case the DS suddenly comes back in fashion and there’s an overwhelming demand
for the Fan Network to return. But, this sale netted the company a pretty
hefty return on their investment, 6 and a half hundred million dollars. Neat! I suppose it just goes to show that sometimes,
the strangest purchases can be the most lucrative ones of all. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself
next time I’m buying grape juice on Amazon at 2am. What Hey! Thanks for watching to the end, I hope you
found that interesting! For more lost chapters in the history books
of gaming, be sure to subscribe to the channel, and follow me on twitter @thomasgdocs. See you next week, it’ll be a hoot!

100 thoughts on “Why Nintendo bought an entire US baseball team

  1. This is a story I have been aware of since it actually happened. Although the irony of we must save baseball from Japan centering around a team who would 10 years later sign one of the greatest Japanese players of the time is only just hitting. I lived in Orlando at the time and would have therefore benefited from Morsani's effort or Vince Naimoli's effort to buy the Giants. While I wanted Major League Baseball in Florida, I didn't want someone else's team in order to get it. Sadly Smulyan who only bought the Mariners in 1989, didn't even want an angel and had even turned down a TV deal that would have helped the team in the 1992 season. In 2005 for some reason, he was part of a group attempting to buy the Nationals, where he was promptly accused of trying to cash in on the success of the team's move to DC. When I finally heard the story as to why Yamauchi made the purchase, I for one thought it a fantastic story and I still love it to this day. I understand from the North American owners (both Canadian teams had Canadian owners) were stand point as to why they would fear foreign ownership. But I believe that Yamauchi wasn't a sports man did play a part in the fear. It's one thing for non-sporting folk to get involved in your own backyard, it's another when you have to content with cultural differences in business and so forth.

  2. Ngl I thought you said the team was called the "Marios" which would have absolutely made more sense on Nintendo's part

  3. Things Nintendo Own:
    Mario
    Zelda
    Pikmin
    Starfox
    Metroid
    DK
    Fire Emblem
    Retro Studios
    Monolith Soft
    2 Mario po*n films
    A baseball team

  4. At the end of the video the subtitles say grape juice instead of baked beans which is a little weird, although still an excellent video as usual

  5. 6:54 Imagine also being one of the kids in the school bus playing on their DS, but the only difference is that you're watching a baseball game of all things

  6. I hope you come back to development of game and their stories, your recent videos are somewhat interesting but I really miss the charm of the first ones… Be less clickbait and more quality. You have a great channel and you can be more than this.

  7. "Or at least, that's what I'll tell myself next time I'm buying baked beans on Amazon at 2:00 AM."
    I felt that😞

  8. "Or at least, that's what I'll tell myself next time I'm buying baked beans on Amazon at 2:00 AM."
    I felt that😞

  9. I don't think you understand what racism is. Not wanting a foreigner to own a major sports team in your country has nothing to do with race lmao

    Also by saying that's racist you imply that country of origin is equivalent to race. Truly a gamer 😂👌

  10. 5:14 It’s funny, because nowadays Japan is much more into baseball and America’s most popular sport is American Football.

  11. Not wanting a Japanese person to buy an American sports team isn't racist, Thomas. The worry is about whether the American people/economy profits from their own team

  12. Baseball is a distinctly American sport. It defines us as a nation. I could understand why they wouldn’t want foreigners involved in something so unique and important to American culture. Calling them racist is a bit of an oversimplification…

    But yeah, I always loved how my favorite video game company owned my favorite baseball team lol Sad they’re not still the owners.

  13. I will Never understand North America mentality of moving teams from their city and to leave stadiums in the dust for nothing and the fans that started supporting the team in their beginnings with no sport events.
    No matter which sport is.

  14. Yo Thomas! What happened to the episode about the Mario/Nagatanien Rice crossover games? I looked all over the place for a copy of it to try and show it to one of my friends but apparently it's private now?

  15. That isn't racism, it's called nationalism.
    Wanting to keep the hallmark sport of American culture owned by Americans does not mean you don't like the Japanese ethnicity. While in hindsight I agree that allowing him to invest in the team was for the best, it is understandable that people would be against the new idea of foreigners buying into such a fundamentally American sport.

    If you really think that's crossing a line, you should take look at Japanese immigration policy.
    Check this video out if you're interested https://youtu.be/Z3BYCK-3jPc

  16. IN B4 the MLB gives you a copyright strike. They did it to the Gaming Historian when he covered Nintendo & the Seattle Mariners.

  17. Your voice is so humble and cheerful! It makes my heart feeling warm and nice while watching your vids! nwn Love this vid!!

  18. Mario + Mariners! Cute combo!
    Baseball is big in Japan! How neat that a "neighbor" across the Pacific cold help turn things around. Great story!

  19. In Japan if you say you're from Seattle they will always ask if you know Ichiro a very famous Japanese baseball player from the mariners, maybe why they also bought it?

  20. I am aware of Nintendo's former ownership of the Mariners but I didn't even know they actually owned them for that long. And the reason was really a thank you.

    And it's amazing how George W Bush one of the worst US Presidents ever was the one who convinced the MLB to allow Hiroshi Yamoushi to purchase the Mariners.even though George Bush was one of the worst Presidents and did have some corruption, in general he's actually a really good guy. Unlike our current President Trump who is even dumber than Bush and completely selfish

  21. Why do you keep showing the Texas state capitol when bringing up the US Senate?

    Also, it’s Major League Baseball. Not the American Baseball League.

    In short, your Brit is showing.

  22. This was a crazy story
    Almost as crazy as not searching for beans at 2 AM
    It's normal honestly, so many people do that or similar things

  23. I remember getting the first editions DS from the factory before it officially came out because we had friends working at nintendo, it was cool to be able to use there nintendo services while you were at the stadium and is something that is a time capsule of that era.

  24. I bet Nintendo will buy the University of Washington next and then you have an app in the Switch so you watch the Washington Huskies sporting events.

    If that happens then Nintendo won't have my respect cuz I'm an Oregon Ducks fan

  25. That DS stadium app was awesome from 2007-2011! I loved competing with other people in the stadium over the trivia and puzzle games.

  26. Worth noting that paranoia over Japan outcompeting US industry spurred the increased xenophobia of the time. People thought Japan was going to take over everything (see Back to the Future II for another example), and the success of the NES made Nintendo an easy scapegoat. The distrust started to go away after Japan's economy went south. Now we get to do it with China!

  27. As a Mariners fan, it was interesting when Nintendo owned a majority stake of the team. The Mariners are one of the least successful teams in major professional sports in North America. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2001, they made their first playoff appearance in 1995. Yet, they've had some of the game's best players like Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson. All of whom are in the Baseball Hall of Fame except Ichiro, who will be there when he's eligible in 2024 (retired players must wait 5 years for eligibility).

    The Mariners also weren't "safe" either, they almost moved again when they couldn't get a new stadium, but then they had their miraculous run to their first postseason appearance in 1995. "Refuse to Lose" became a popular motto in Seattle, and they were able to build their new stadium. That run + being saved by Hiroshi Yamauchi in 1992 also probably helped Seattle acquire Ichiro Suzuki's MLB rights in 2000. Japanese players must play 9 years in Japan before being MLB-eligible per an agreement between Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan's major league) and MLB.

    The Mariners after that were probably the most popular MLB team in Japan until 2012 when Ichiro was traded to the New York Yankees. Ichiro played two years for the Yankees, before joining the Miami Marlins for two years and then finishing his career with the Mariners. Ichiro also got a proper send-off when the 2019 MLB season started in Tokyo as the Mariners faced the Oakland Athletics in a two-game set. Ichiro announced his retirement prior to the 2nd of those two games, and got a rousing applause when he exited the game in the 8th inning. I stayed up to watch that game, and I remember getting teary-eyed.

    I'd say the biggest problem with the Mariners after 2001 was the fact that Nintendo were pretty complacent owners, they really didn't have any ambitions to be successful or well-ran.

    Oh! Oh! I forgot, Nintendo also used to make MLB games. They made the classic Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball and Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run (made by Rare) for Super Nintendo, which still holds up, and two Ken Griffey Jr games for N64 which haven't aged well.

  28. First of all, the Japanese are not a race. They are Asian, that is their race. Secondly, and more importantly, it had nothing to do with race. It had everything to do with protecting an American product from foreign interference. Third, this didn't save the Mariners. The Mariners were getting ready to move even after this sale. What saved baseball in Seattle was Ken Griffey Jr and the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees. Don't make videos about things you know nothing about.

  29. I don't think it's fair to say it's very racist since back then it was unthinkable that a Japanese entity could own anything so close to American culture. Ever since then the Mariners have been a champion of Japanese players and a forerunner too. Japanese MEGA super star Ichiro Suzuki began his MLB career and ended it in Seattle. With notable names such as Kenji Johjima, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yusei Kikuchi, and Kazuhiro Sasaki the Mariners have a VERY good relationship with the Japanese players.

    I'm a huge Mariners and Nintendo fan, but it was just such a wild idea back then. Imagine Ferrari owning an American football team. There would no doubt be controversy at first just because it's so different.

    But I'm so thankful for Slade Gorton, and Nintendo for keeping the Mariners in Seattle.

  30. 5:14 This is where the party ends. I can't stand here listening to you and your racist friend.

    They Might Be Giants fans will understand 😉

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