BY Art Thiel 09:27PM 04/27/2016

Thiel: A big damn day in Mariners history

In John Stanton, the new lead owner, the Mariners, after 40 years ,finally have at the top a leader passionate about baseball and at the top of his business game.

CEO Howard Lincoln reads from a statement saying that Nintendo of America was selling its shares of the Mariners to a group led by John Stanton. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

The five greatest moments in Mariners history:

1972 — Awarding of a franchise to Seattle as part of settlement the state accepted after suing MLB over hijacking the Pilots and moving them to Milwaukee.

1992 — Offer from Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi to buy the Mariners and keep them from moving to Tampa.

1995 — Approval from the state Legislature to contribute $380 million for a retractable-roof stadium to keep the Mariners from moving to Tampa again.

April 27, 2016 — Club minority ownership group led by Seattle billionaire John Stanton purchases 45 percent of the Mariners for $640 million from majority owner, Nintendo of America, on a valuation of $1.4 billion.

Now, take a look at that list and ask yourself: “What is missing?”

Answer: A ballgame. Or a home run. Or a no-hitter.  Or a pennant. Or a pennant race.

Always with the Mariners, it has seemed business came first.

Yes, I remember the 1995 season. And the 2001 season. The Mariners have had some terrific moments on the field. But there’s never been the transcendence of a World Series win, or even an appearance. Certainly nothing like sustained credibility as a serious franchise. You know, like the Seahawks under Allen-Carroll-Schneider.

After 40 years, that’s about to change.

The Mariners finally have it together.

They already have a sports-mad market in MLB’s largest geographic monopoly. They have the money, as the valuation showed. They have the stadium and the contemporary general manager.

When Stanton takes over in mid-August, after MLB approves the Seattle “transition,” they will have the owner to succeed.

Stanton will be the richest guy to own the Mariners. As well as the smartest and the most passionate about baseball. And fercripessakes, he’s the first local guy in the job.

Yes, I know Stan Kroenke was a Missouri native, which didn’t stop the owner of the St. Louis Rams two months ago from moving the NFL team to Los Angeles.

But Stanton is different. He is to baseball what wanna-be Sonics owner Chris Hansen is to basketball. And what another local guy come to wealth, Paul Allen, also is to basketball in Portland — and who did an OK job running the Seahawks for the past 19 seasons.

John Stanton

Stanton is not Danny Kaye, nor George Argyros nor Jeff Smulyan, previous Mariners owners in it for self-aggrandizement. Nor is he Lincoln, a Seattle longtimer now but who was a corporate attorney for most of his career, with no experience in sports or retail. His tone-deafness to public stewardship and operations of a pro sports franchise has been the burden of his tenure.

Seattle-born, raised in Bellevue, Whitman College (Walla Walla) honors graduate, Stanton said he wept as a boy when the Pilots left in 1970. And he gnashed his teeth when the Sonics left in 2008, even though he was a part-owner and made some nice coin in the sale hotly pursued by Seattle’s baron of bean, Howard Schultz.

For the record, Stanton as a member of the Sonics board of directors was among those to vote against the the sale to Oklahoman Clay Bennett. Answering a question about his Sonics tenure, he said his fellow Mariners owners “had it in the back of their minds” that Seattle was among the few American cities to have lost two pro sports teams.

They weren’t going to let it happen a third time. Lincoln said Wednesday there had been an outside query to Nintendo of America, the corporate owner of 55 percent of the club for whom Lincoln was the representative on the board, about possibly selling.

Tatsumi Kimishima, president of Nintendo, recalled a conversation he had some time ago with Hiroshi Yamauchi, the mysterious Japanese billionaire from Kyoto who in 1992 surprised Seattle and the baseball world with his offer to buy the club to keep it from moving to Tampa. NOA was the owner of record after Yamauchi, who died in 2013, signed over the club in 2004 for estate purposes.

“He said, ‘Don’t sell the team to a stranger who would use the team as a business,'” Kimishima told Japanese reporter Masa Niwa, who has been based in Seattle for years, in November. Niwa said Kimishima took it to mean that Yamauchi didn’t want the team sold to anyone who would profit from a sale to outsiders.

Enter Stanton. When Lincoln, 76, wrote a letter Feb. 3 informing the minority owners that he was “very anxious” to retire and that Kimishima agreed to sell NOA’s 55 percent, Stanton, 60, said he discussed with his fellow 17 shareholders owners the purchase based upon a value of $1.4 billion.

“I thought that the time had come,” Lincoln said. “As we discussed what Nintendo should do, we decided that now was the time to approach our other partners (to) see if they were interested in, and had the capacity to acquire, Nintendo’s majority interest in the team and in” the 70 percent ownership in Root Sports, the regional sports network.

They agreed. Stanton, who has owned about 10 percent of the club since he bought out original investor John McCaw in 2000, was the lead investor of the estimated $640 million offer, and will be the controlling officer. He said neither he nor anyone else will own a majority of the shares, but did not disclose percentages of ownership.

“The number one goal of this ownership team is to win a World Series,’’ Stanton said Wednesday. “We want to win a World Series here in Seattle and have a parade and celebration for that event. I think that it’s time that we had that accomplishment. ”

That’s a bold statement that Lincoln always seemed reluctant to make. But Stanton’s combination of keen intellect and easy self-disparagement has won him much respect, many friends and many business successes in the wireless technology industry.

From our friends at Geekwire:

Stanton is regarded as a wireless pioneer and his resume speaks for itself . . . He has led companies ranging from VoiceStream Wireless (the predecessor of the modern day T-Mobile) to Clearwire Corp. In addition, he worked as a top executive at McCaw Cellular and Western Wireless.

Stanton is also an active investor, having founded Trilogy Equity Partners in 2006. In the past two years, Stanton also joined the Microsoft board of directors, in addition to Costco’s board.

Outside the boardroom, the husband and father of two grown men has given back to his community in various ways. He holds leadership roles with the Business Partnership for Early Learning, the United Way of King County campaign, and Year Up of Puget Sound.

He called the lead ownership role with the Mariners “perhaps the supreme honor for me in my career.”

A man steeped in the baseball culture as a Little League coach as well as a father to a college baseball player and an owner of Northwest League teams in Walla Walla and Yakima, Stanton has the hardball bona fides, as well as the tech-business chops to navigate the changing intersection of sports and media.

If one were to build an ideal owner for a 21st century MLB team, it would look a lot like John Stanton.



  • Kevin Lynch

    They’ll get the World Series eventually. And I realize I am a minority member on this topic, but to me the immortal accomplishment has already been achieved. 116 wins in a season. Two teams get in the Series every year. Only one other team in history did what he 2001 team did and none of those folks who witnessed that Chicago season are alive now, it happened so long ago.

    • TomRunz

      And I will always blame Lincoln for the Mariners not making it to the Series in 2001. Lou Piniella desperately wanted a power hitter for the stretch run and was denied by the ever-cheap Mariners brass. They may have won 116 but they were totally out of steam by the playoffs. That boneheaded decision also caused Lou to head out of town.

      • Kevin Lynch

        That’s right. They needed one more bat and maybe one more power pitcher. Garcia had good stats that year but I never quite trusted him in a big playoff game.

        • art thiel

          I get your points, gents, but we’re talking about today and tomorrow, not 15 years ago, ‘K?

          • 2nd place is 1st loser

            We get your point Art, but this franchise has always shoved the past down our throats, even it was only just a few glimpse of hope. There was never a promise of a future WS. But as they say in spring training, hope springs eternal. Go M’s.

      • Alan Kelly

        Maybe Lou could have had the left fielder he wanted if he hadn’t just traded him to Kansas City because he was too impatient to let him develop on his own team.

      • art thiel

        I’m not going to dispute Lou, but he asked for stuff every year, as he should. I don’t call the Mariners ownership cheap; I say for most of his years (until the Cano deal), Lincoln sacrificed baseball for profit.

    • art thiel

      Again, with out the political/biz/legal deeds, no 116.

  • Tian Biao

    Okay, so the new guy has passion, and he’s from Seattle, and he’s not Nintendo/Howard Lincoln, and he’s apparently pretty wealthy, so those are all positives. It is change. But we don’t know this guy. He could be a meddler, a troublemaker; he could interfere with draft choices and daily baseball decisions. He could hire yes-men. He could lock horns with Dipoto. He could . . . sigh. I’m not trying to be negative here. It’s just that the Ms have never had a good owner, not once in 40 years, and I don’t dare to hope. Not yet.

    • art thiel

      I understand the skepticism. I also have talked to numerous people who know Stanton or worked for/with him. They are unanimous in their belief of a great fit.

      • Tian Biao

        I’m glad to hear it, Art, I really am, and I trust your judgment as well. So there really is reason to hope. excellent!

    • 1coolguy

      Any guy that owns minor league teams is a baseball junkie in my book who is willing to hand it out there. That is a tough go and he definitely has the bona fides as Art stated.

  • NixBeeman

    “He is to baseball what wanna-be Sonics owner Chris Hansen is to basketball.” Sheesh, Art, you didn’t have to insult the guy on day one!

    • art thiel

      If he were to develop his arena as planned, he will have spent more private cash than all other Seattle ownerships combined have spent on their venues.

      • NixBeeman

        Pretty low bar. The days of public subsidized sports stadia in Seattle are over.

  • jafabian

    I have to disagree with your list Art because there’s been so many great moments on the field for the club. The 95 playoff season should bump at least couple items down as well as winning 116 games. Both of those seasons are continuously mentioned by MLB and the 95 season saved baseball in Seattle. Ichiro’s rookie MVP season as well as being the first Japanese position player to post and sign with an MLB team, Junior’s MVP season, Randy and Felix’s Cy Young seasons. Felix’s perfect game. IMO one of these are probably more attention getting in their history than an ownership change. If you’re talking business transactions then becoming the controlling partner of Root Sports NW is a huge one as that it gave the M’s opportunity to bring in players like Cano and Cruz. Heck, because of the M’s the Kingdome was imploded.

    I do get the point of the column though. This day could easily herald a new era for the club depending on Stanton. For the most part the club has focused on sound business practices and profit moreso than on-field success but I’d wager that most of MLB has the same philosophy. At the very least I’m thankful (to quote Beastmode) that Nintendo gave the club the opportunity to keep the club with local ownership. Something Howard Schultz failed to do. As frustrating as the Lincoln era has been there has been some special moments as well. And Howard is going out on a good note.

    • art thiel

      As I acknowledged, there’s been many fine moments on the field. But none would have happened without the biz/legal/political developments. Until Stanton’s goal of winning a World Series happens, the off-field stuff is larger.

  • Paul Harmening

    Semantics fellas…Arts article has nothing to do with on the field greatest moments. Read it again. And again. Open your eyes. This indeed is bigger than huge. You will eventually see it.

    • Paul Harmening

      I might add this thought: The only on field moment that might have been included with Arts assessment would have been the last pitch thrown in a World Series won by the M’s. Of course, that hasn’t happened-yet. Now, with Stanton at the top of the food chain, I believe this to be the event that all but insures it will, and very soon.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    If the m’s don’t get their way on this so do stadium issue, the honeymoon will be quickly over. Expect them to play the relocation card, if they haven’t done so already. Not saying they will move, just saying they will play the card.

    • art thiel

      In a word, no. In the club’s letter to the city council, it already said, and I wrote about, the M’s will be a good neighbor if they don’t get their way.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        Ok I won’t worry then. I trust them.

  • notaboomer

    will the fans still have to be shaken down on entry and pay $12 for a beer?

    • art thiel

      If people are still buying, I’m guessing yes.

      • Tian Biao

        um, that would be me – one or two (or three) craft beers at every game. but the vendors tell me the beers are bigger this year. I couldn’t tell by looking, but I’ll take their word for it.

    • 1coolguy

      I suspect the beer prices are an effort to dampen the volume, for obvious reasons, and still make an overall profit.

  • 1coolguy

    As I have maintained over the years, I’d resume buying M’s tickets if Lincoln was gone. It’s been a LONG 9 years but this is a huge, unexpected turn. I will GLADLY buy M’s tickets this year. John Stanton and his group are now free to genuinely establish a winner in Seattle, whereas until now it’s just felt like lip service. Wow, a GREAT DAY in Seattle! 4.27.16 will be remembered.

  • Dan Whitmarsh

    Am I missing something? This begins with “The five greatest moments in Mariners history. . .” but I only see four listed.

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