BY SPNW Staff 06:30AM 09/26/2013

Mariners: Ownership, Organizational Timeline

Mariners ownership over nearly 40 years has been nearly broke and wildly successful. But with the death of Yamauchi, another ownership change is possible.

George Argyros, a California real estate developer, owned the Mariners from 1981-89. After purchasing the club for $13 million, he sold for a profit of more than $50 million. / Wiki Commons

In the wake of the death of Hiroshi Yamauchi, retired president of Nintendo whose purchase in 1992 kept the club from relocating, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said that Nintendo of America in Redmond “had no plans to sell” the franchise but he “could not predict the future.”

Yamauchi was the fourth principal owner of the Mariners, following groups headed by entertainer Danny Kaye (1976-81), George Argyros (1981-89) and Jeff Smulyan (1989-91). The Baseball Club of Seattle (1992-present), had Yamauchi as the lead investor with 55 percent.

A timeline of the key ownership and organizational developments in Mariners history:

  • Jan. 14, 1976: American League owners vote 11-1 to place an expansion franchise in Seattle for the 1977 season provided that a buyer can be found and if the city can provide a suitable ballpark.
  • Feb. 6, 1976: Satisfied with the Kingdome as a suitable baseball facility, the AL awards an expansion franchise to a group headed by Seattle businessman Lester Smith and entertainer Danny Kaye. Other owners include Walter Schoenfeld, Steven Golub, Jim Walsh and Jim Stillwell. The partners pay $5.53 million for the franchise.
  • April 18, 1976: The Mariners name Lou Gorman, formerly an assistant with the Kansas City Royals, as their first Director of Baseball Operations.
  • June 2, 1976: The Mariners name Dick Vertlieb, instrumental in the early development of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, as the club’s first Executive Director. Vertlieb also spent time as general manager of the Golden State Warriors.
  • Aug. 24, 1976: The nickname “Mariners” is selected for the club following a name-the-team contest that attracted 15,000 entries.
  • Sept. 3, 1976: The Mariners select Darrell Dean Johnson as their first field manager from a candidate pool that included Bob Lemon, Joe Altobelli and Vern Rapp.
  • Sept. 10, 1976: The Mariners announce ticket prices for the team’s inaugural season. Kingdome seats will run $5, $4.50, $3.50 and $1.50 for general admission.
  • Nov. 5, 1976: The Mariners select 30 players in the major league expansion draft, using their No. 1 overall pick on outfielder Ruppert Jones.
  • Nov. 17, 1976: Pitcher Gary Wheelock, whom the Mariners selected in expansion draft, becomes the first player to sign a contract with the Seattle franchise.
  • Jan. 17, 1979: Daniel O’Brien, former GM of the Texas Rangers, is selected President and Chief Executive Officer.
  • May 18, 1979: Lou Gorman is promoted to general manager.
  • July 17, 1979: Seattle hosts the 50th All-Star game in the Kingdome in front of a record crowd of 58,905. Bruce Bochte of the Mariners delivers an RBI single, but the National League defeats the American League 7-6.
  • Nov. 6, 1980: Gorman resigns as general manager to become Vice President and Director of Baseball Operations of the New York Mets.
  • Jan 14, 1981: California real estate developer George Argyros purchases 90 percent of the Mariners for $10.2 million from the original ownership group headed by Kaye. (Argyros subsequently bought the other 10 percent for $2.9 million). Argyros, who had also just purchased Richard Nixon’s former Western White House in San Clemente, Calif., assumes the Kingdome lease under a provision removing his personal liability for bankruptcy.
  • Feb. 2, 1981: AL owners meeting in New York City formally approve the sale of the Mariners to Argyros for $13 million. Argyros’ expenditure represents an 80 percent interest in the franchise.
  • Oct. 17, 1983: Hal Keller is promoted from Director of Player Development to Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager following O’Brien’s resignation.
  • June 22, 1984: Argyros hints he might move the club, perhaps to Denver, because of a dispute with the Kingdome over a date conflict with the Seahawks. In contracts signed in 1976, the teams were given conflicting priority status over playing dates. ”We want to stay here and be successful,” Argyros says. ”But we can’t be successful in a stadium that treats us like second-class citizens.”
  • Oct. 8, 1985: Dick Balderson is named Vice President of Baseball Operations.
  • March 26, 1987: Argyros announces he has offered to buy the San Diego Padres and that it has been accepted subject to “a final definitive agreement” and league approval. He says he wants to sell the Mariners “as soon as possible.” After the announcement, Jim Street of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that San Diego is “about the luckiest city since Beirut.”
  • March 30, 1987: Seattle and King County officials announce that they are studying a plan that would allow more than 500 citizens to invest $1,000 to $2,000 apiece toward the purchase of the Mariners. City development director David Moseley says the citizen investments could be combined with money from corporations to raise enough cash to purchase the team for an estimated $40 million.
  • April 6, 1987: King County Executive Tim Hill writes baseball officials to warn them that no one will be allowed to move the Mariners out of Seattle. Hill claimed Argyros had not kept his word to field a competitive team. Hill says the letter has the effect of scaring off buyers who could try to move the team.
  • April 10, 1987: Gov. Booth Gardner signs a law allowing Seattle or King County to buy the Mariners as a last resort.
  • April 10, 1987: Hours before the Mariners lose to Minnesota 8-1, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth orders Argyros to remove himself from the club’s day-to-day operations. Ueberroth’s decree comes in the wake of Argyros’ statement that he intended to sell the Mariners and buy the Padres.
  • April 21, 1987: Ueberroth fines Argyros $10,000 after he learns that Argyros had contacted the manager of the Padres in violation of restrictions placed upon the lame-duck owner.
  • May 11, 1987: Argyros rejects a $37 million cash offer from Portland businessman Bruce Engel to purchase the Mariners.
  • July 27, 1988: Woody Woodward, a former general manager with the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds, is named Vice President of Baseball Operations.
  • Aug. 22, 1989:Argyros announces he will sell the ballclub to Indianapolis broadcast executives Jeff Smulyan and Michael Browning for $76 million.

    Jeff Smulyan

  • Oct. 5, 1989: A partnership that includes Smulyan, Emmis Broadcasting, Browning and the Morgan Stanley Group purchases the Mariners for $67 million. Smulyan assumes the role of Chairman of the Board.
  • Jan. 26, 1990: Smulyan calls a report that the Mariners are in the process of being sold to a Japanese conglomerate “absolutely and totally preposterous,” saying, “We have no interest in selling this team.”
  • Sept. 5, 1991: Smuylan puts his ballclub up for sale, pricing it at $100 million. According to the club’s Kingdome lease, the team can be moved if no local buyer is found within 120 days.
  • Dec. 4, 1991: Smulyan, who says he wants to move the team to Florida, offers the club for sale to potential local buyers, as required by the Kingdome lease. Independently, U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton contacts prospective purchasers, including Hiroshi Yamauchi of Japan, owner of Nintendo Co., Ltd.
  • Jan. 15, 1992: A local ownership group announces it will buy the Mariners for $100 million. Yamauchi offers to put up the entire amount, as a favor to the Seattle community for welcoming Redmond-based Nintendo of America. Other owners include executives from Microsoft and McCaw Celluar as well as small shares to industrial magnates Frank Shrontz, CEO of Boeing, and Puget Power CEO John Ellis.
  • Feb. 7, 1992: Florida Marlins officials say they will not attempt to block the possible move of the Mariners to St. Petersburg, FL. But Carl Barger, president of the Marlins, says his franchise will insist on compensation if the Mariners relocate to Florida.
  • Feb. 10, 1992: Gorton says baseball owners will likely face an antitrust challenge and charges of racial discrimination if they turn down a bid by Nintendo of Japan to purchase the Mariners.
  • March 16, 1992: Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush says that even if American League owners fail to approve a Nintendo-backed offer to purchase the Mariners from Smulyan, he remains committed to keeping the team in Seattle. “That’s where they belong,” says Bush.
  • April 3, 1992: Smulyan agrees to sell the franchise for $100 million to a Seattle-based group backed by Japanese investors, including Yamauchi. Asked why he had decided to sell, Smulyan says, “I think we just felt we couldn’t find the answers here, and it’s time for somebody else to be finding answers.”
  • June 4, 1992: After long, racially tinged arguments over the issue of Japanese ownership, Major League Baseball approves the purchase of the Mariners on the condition that Ellis, not Yamauchi’s representatives, runs the team.
  • July 1, 1992: The Baseball Club of Seattle assumes control of the Mariners, the Board of Directors including John Ellis (chairman), Minoru Arakawa, Chris Larson, Howard Lincoln, John McCaw, Frank Schrontz and Craig Watjen.
  • Oct. 19, 1993: Chuck Armstrong, who previously worked under Argyros when he owned the club, is named President of the Mariners. He had been serving as interim athletic director at the University of Washington.
  • Oct. 15, 1995: By the slimmest of margins in the Senate, but with a solid majority in the House, state lawmakers approve a funding package to finance a new baseball stadium for the Mariners. The estimated cost: $320 million.
  • June 4, 1998: Naming rights to the new baseball park south of the Kingdome are sold for $40 million to Seattle-based Safeco Corp.
  • July 15, 1999: Seattle plays its first game in Safeco Field, completed at a cost of $517 million.
  • Sept. 27, 1999: Lincoln is named Chairman and CEO and Ellis is appointed chairman emeritus.
  • Oct. 25, 1999: The Mariners name Pat Gillick, who previously ran the front offices of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, as Executive Vice-President/General Manager of Baseball Operations.
  • Nov. 7, 2003: The Mariners name 45-year-old Bill Bavasi, a former GM of the Angels and a farm director of the Dodgers, as their new GM. Bavasi is selected from a pool of 82 candidates.
  • June 16, 2008: The Mariners fire Bavasi and name Lee Pelekoudas as interim GM.
  • Oct. 22, 2008: Jack Zduriencik is named Executive Vice President and General Manager of Baseball Operations.
  • March 28-29, 2012: The Mariners open the regular season against the Oakland Athletics at Japan’s Tokyo Dome. Owner Yamauchi, who has never seen his team play in person, is unable to attend the two-game series.
  • April 16, 2013: The Mariners purchase a controlling interest in Root Sports, the regional sports TV network.
  • Sept. 19, 2013: Yamauchi dies of pneumonia at 85. Expected to have the most active role among the remaining shareholders: Chris Larson, who owns more than 30 percent of the team, and John Stanton, who owns about 10 percent.


Comments are closed.