America's most famous baseball team may soon have a Japanese part owner.
Isao Nakauchi, the chairman and president of Daiei Inc., Japan's largest supermarket chain, is considering a purchase of 9.6 percent of the New York Yankees, documents say. Nakauchi already owns the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japanese baseball's Pacific League.Nakauchi refused comment, but the company released a statement denying any intention of buying a stake in the Yankees.
"Daiei refused an offer from a major securities house for the shares in mid-July," the company said in a statement. "We've had absolutely no contact with the American side. Moreover, we are not even considering plans to make such an acquisition."
George Steinbrenner, although barred from running the Yankees, still owns 54.9 percent of the team and Nakauchi's possible purchase would not affect that. Steinbrenner repeatedly has said he has no intention of selling his stock, but has said he intends to transfer 5 percent to a family member by August. The Yankees are estimated to be worth between $200 million and $400 million.
Harvey Leighton and Jack Satter, two limited partners who are considering selling their shares to Nakauchi, in August asked for and received permission from the team's other owners to allow Nakauchi to examine the club's financial records, according to the documents.
Satter said Friday night that the talks have not progressed beyond that point, although Leighton in August said Nakauchi's group "were very good prospects."
"I would say it's just status quo," Satter said.
Deputy commissioner Stephen Greenberg said the Yankees had informed him that discussions were preliminary.
"They said we will come to you before it is even a ripe issue to decide," Greenberg said.
When asked if the commissioner's office had voiced objections, Satter said, "It hasn't gotten that far." Marvin Goldklang, another limited partner, said the issue was not discussed at the last Yankees owners meeting in November.
Greenberg said any sale of a minority interest would have to be approved by American League president Bobby Brown, and said Nakauchi's ownership of a Japanese team could become an issue. Greenberg also pointed out that baseball's trend has been against absentee ownership.
"We have foreign ownership rules, not relating specifically to Japan, but relating to foreign owners in general," Greenberg said. "The ownership committee has guidelines that local ownership, whenever possible, is preferable."
Milwaukee owner Bud Selig, a member of the ownership committee, said a possible Japanese purchase was "something for the commissioner to decide."
"I haven't been aware of it and haven't thought about it," Selig said.
"I never like to judge a situation before I have to vote," said Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, head of the ownership committee.
Nakauchi's interest in purchasing the team was revealed in the minutes of an Aug. 15, 1990, meeting of Yankees partners. The minutes were among approximately 1,000 pages of documents filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York as part of an unrelated lawsuit by Yankees executive vice president Leonard Kleinman against commissioner Fay Vincent.
"I am formally presenting Mr. Isao Nakauchi as a prospective purchaser of my interest and Jack Satter's interest in the New York Yankees," Leighton wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to Kleinman.
The minutes state that Satter and Leighton - who have retained the mergers and acquisitions firm Ansbacher Inc. - had asked the commissioner's office for permission to show Nakauchi the team's financial records.
"Mr. Steinbrenner then stated that certainly it was OK with him," the minutes state. "He had no objections to having Mr. Nakauchi and his representatives look in the books and records as long as they have signed the confidentiality agreements and received the commissioner's blessing.
"In that regard, Mr. Leighton stated that they had signed an agreement and Mr. Kleinman is in the possession of the confidentiality agreement. There was a discussion among the other partners about Japanese ownership.
"Mr. Steinbrenner once again questioned both Jack Satter and Harvey Leighton about the commissioner's position, and the partners were assured by Satter that the commissioner's office had given the go-ahead. Mr. Leighton also echoed the same sentiments.
"Mr. Leighton advised Mr. Steinbrenner that these people were good prospects for Satter's and his interest in the Yankees."
Nakauchi, 68, paid an estimated $30.8 million in 1988 for his Japanese baseball team. His company, Daiei Inc., owns a variety of businesses through subsidiaries, including department stores, specialty stores, hotels, restaurants, credit services, information services, real estate and tourism.
His baseball team finished last in 1990 with a 41-85-3 record.
"I will manage the Daiei Hawks using the systems adopted by the U.S. major league teams," Nakauchi was once quoted as saying by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "I hope my team will be powerful like those in the United States."