M's will not be sold

The subtle alteration of Mariners ownership shares held by Nintendo of America and Hiroshi Yamauchi, which occurred months ago and was made public last week, is not the precursor of a sale of the team, club officials say.

"In fact, that Mr. Yamauchi transferred his shares to Nintendo was no more than simple estate planning," said Howard Lincoln, Mariners CEO and representative on Nintendo's board of directors.

Yamauchi, who retired two years ago from Nintendo, is 77. Together, Yamauchi and Nintendo had reportedly owned 54 percent of the team. With the transfer, Nintendo owns all 54 percent.

"Nothing has changed by this transfer," Lincoln said. "The fans of the Seattle Mariners will see or feel no difference whatsoever in the way our ballclub is operated."

Nintendo is not expected to sell. The company has a history of holding businesses it obtained since Yamauchi founded the company to make playing cards in 1949.

"There will be no changes in ownership," Lincoln said. "In fact, we have an exceptionally stable ownership, with only one change since the team was bought in 1992 when (John) McCaw sold his shares to John Stanford.

"There is no interest on the part of anyone in the partnership to sell, and there are provisions in the partnership agreement with regard to the sale of anyone's interest in the Mariners."

It is believed that current partners have a right of first refusal should any part of the ownership, including Nintendo, put its shares for sale.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong noted that, in the American League, only the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins have ownership that predates that of the Mariners.

While the breakdown of ownership shares has never been made public, it has been reported that Yamauchi had held 32 percent of the team and that Nintendo reimbursed him $67 million, the same amount Yamauchi paid Jeff Smulyan when Yamauchi and Nintendo led the purchase of the Mariners for $100 million plus $25 million in operating capital.

Nintendo's original share reportedly was 22 percent. The rest was held by 15 minority owners, led by Chris Larson of Microsoft with 29 percent.

The transfer of shares continues the Nintendo/Yamauchi ownership's majority interest, which is the way Major League Baseball has always viewed Mariners ownership.

"MLB has always regarded Nintendo shares and Mr. Yamauchi's shares as essentially one entity; therefore, when this transaction was reported to MLB, there was no vote of owners on it," Armstrong said. "Nothing had changed in the eyes of Major League Baseball."

Lincoln reiterated that nothing had changed in the running of the club, nor in his role.

"Nintendo's board of directors asked Mr. Yamauchi to maintain his role," he said. "Therefore, I continue to report to Mr. Yamauchi and to deal with him on a periodic basis on ballclub business."

The transaction between Nintendo and Yamauchi, Lincoln added, "assures that upon the death of Mr. Yamauchi there will be no complication with his personal estate regarding the ownership of the Mariners."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com