Note: This is my Crunch Time column that I wrote for the Cheney Free Press.
It looks like the Seattle Mariners will undergo another change in leadership, less than a year after Jerry Dipoto took over as the team’s general manager and Scott Servais became manager.
In April, the Mariners announced that owner Nintendo plans to sell its majority interest in the team to First Avenue Entertainment, a local group of minority owners that also has an interest in Root Sports, for $1.4 billion. While Nintendo will retain 10 percent interest in the ball club, John Stanton will become the team’s chairman and chief executive officer, taking over for Howard Lincoln, the current chairman. Stanton was previously a minority owner of the Seattle Supersonics.
Although Nintendo has owned the team for 24 years, the change in ownership could lead to some good things for the Mariners. Well, more good things if you count the addition of players like Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano to the roster and Dipoto in the front office.
Nintendo took ownership of the franchise in 1992 after then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi led a group of local businessmen to buy the team from former owner Jeff Smulyan, who had run into financial problems and threatened to relocate the ball club. This was considered odd, not only because Nintendo was a foreign entity who was attempting to purchase an American team, but also because Yamauchi’s reason for buying the franchise was merely as a goodwill gesture. He had no real interest in baseball. In the 13 years as an owner, Yamauchi never saw the Mariners play in-person.
While Nintendo’s financial gesture kept the Mariners in Seattle, it hasn’t contributed much in terms of the team’s success on the field. Sure, the Mariners have had 11 winning seasons and three playoffs appearances under Nintendo’s ownership, they are currently on the longest postseason drought of any Major League team — their last playoff appearance was in 2001 — and they haven’t come close to winning the one thing every ball club strives for — a World Series championship.
While Yamauchi was uninterested in baseball, Stanton, who is from Seattle, has a passion for it. During a press conference he talked about “crying as a teenager” when the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and how he’d take a charter plane back home to coach his sons’ youth baseball games. He’s an investor in the minor-league Tacoma Rainiers and the collegiate wood bat teams Walla Walla Sweets and Yakima Pippins.
Stanton’s passion for baseball, as well as having local owners can have a positive impact on the team. They will bring a different perspective and have a pulse on what’s happening in the area. It could also motivate the team to play better.
New owners are not a frequent thing in baseball. The last teams to get new owners were the San Diego Padres (Ron Fowler) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (Mark Walter) in 2012. Although the Padres haven’t experienced much success since Fowler bought them — they’ve gone 227-259 in the last three seasons — the Dodgers have won three National League West division titles under Walters’ reign.
Stanton says he does not want to be a “hands-on” owner, nor will he try and “tell coaches and managers how to do their job.” There’s a fine line with being an owner of a franchise who sticks to the shadows and someone who yells at umpires. I say let his coaches, managers and players do their jobs. However, that doesn’t mean he and the other owners shouldn’t have a presence or make special appearances at Safeco Field. Maybe have a “John Stanton” bobble head night.
In an interview with ESPN, Stanton said the goal of this new ownership is to help the Mariners “win a World Series.”
That’s an optimistic view, but it’s going to take more than new owners for the Mariners to capture a World Series title — after all it’s the players who are suiting up and playing on the field, not them.
But it could be a good first step.