Over the weekend, the Mariners found themselves trending, and not for good reasons. Just as the team prepared for its first full-squad workout of spring training, the franchise was at the center of an off-the-field fiasco thanks to its now former president and CEO, Kevin Mather. It wasn’t Mather’s first controversy with the club, but it would be his last. Here’s how everything went down.
On February 5, Mather spoke to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club about the Mariner's upcoming season via Zoom—a pretty standard engagement in advance of spring training in Arizona. But the call, which wasn’t discovered on YouTube until Saturday night, was anything but typical. During the 45-minute chat, Mather admitted that the team manipulated players’ service time, a tactic that pushes back when players can purse more lucrative contracts in free agency; griped about a “probably overpaid” player—Kyle Seager—who actually might be underpaid; and, perhaps most upsettingly, criticized the English-speaking abilities of players in a sport long celebrated for its international rosters. (While the original video has been removed from YouTube, it’s the internet and nothing is ever truly lost. The Seattle Times has the call as well as a transcript, here.)
Specifically, Mather called out former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who recently returned to the club as a special-assignment coach. Mather shared that while he thinks Iwakuma is a “wonderful” person, “his English is terrible.” The then-CEO was also “tired of paying his interpreter.” Mather added, “Because when he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better. His English got better when we told him that.” (The Mariners’ payroll for players alone this year approaches $100 million.)
Mather also commented that one of the Mariners’ top prospects, Julio Rodríguez from the Dominican Republic, is “loud” and that “his English is not tremendous.”
In response, Rodríguez tweeted a meme that said, “I took that personally.” He wasn’t alone. Many saw Mather’s remarks as inconsiderate of the experiences and challenges international players face while playing baseball in a foreign country. The league certainly did. “We condemn Kevin Mather’s offensive and disrespectful comments about several players,” the MLB said in a statement. “We are proud of the international players who have made baseball better through their outstanding examples of courage and determination, and our global game is far better because of their contributions. His misguided remarks do not represent the values of our game and have no place in our sport.”
On Sunday, Mather issued an apology littered with the generic language and phrases we’ve become accustomed to. Mather said, “There is no excuse for my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my terrible lapse in judgment.” He also said he’s “committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful.”
By Monday, Mather had resigned as president and CEO of the Mariners. That same day, the team’s chairman and managing partner, John Stanton, released another cliché-laden statement that announced he’d be taking over Mather’s positions until they could be filled. Mariners blog Lookout Landing examined what that search should look like.
As for the rest of the organization, Stanton said he hopes to meet with the team and specific players mentioned by Mather to try to rebuild trust. General manager Jerry Dipoto is already talking to players at camp in an effort to clean up the mess left by Mather and his destructive words. “We are very open with our players and urge them to be the same,” Dipoto said. “And if they want to be angry, they should be, frankly. They should be insulted.”