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Kevin Mather Had It Coming Long Before His Rotary Club Meltdown

Former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather with owner John Stanton and Robinson Cano
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

That’s the thing about Rotary Club meetings. You’ll never know when they’ll go rogue.

Seattle Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather did not consciously decide to show the world how baseball’s sausage is made by stepping into the processor with hip waders on, although he managed to do that in a video that hit the internet over the weekend, the foul details of which were concisely and eloquently summed up by Comrade Theisen this morning. No, Mather was just trying to brag to some suburban Seattle Rotarians, on a Zoom call; it was those comments making their way out into the broader world that tripped him up. 

The opprobrium came on fast from there, but while the players union’s oatmeal-strong statement read like someone had edited out the guys-will-be-guys part, by Monday afternoon it was clear that this was not going to go away until Mather himself did. Mariners owner John Stanton put out a somewhat stronger statement later on Monday, in which his phone autocorrected “his mouth got his ass fired” to “he resigned.”

There is surely a contractual reason why Stanton didn’t have someone type “we tolerated his dumbassery far too long” in the statement, but, just once, couldn’t a statement do what we want it to do rather than what the lawyers say it should do? Come on. You’re supposed to be the legal experts here.

Actually, we know the answer to this one, too. The union only expressed its dismay and discomfort with Mather’s remarks about the players under contract to them, as opposed to having the proletariat drop their tools and walk off the job until Mather was cashiered. Stanton did his own version of deploring-for-effect without actually mentioning that Mather walked the retrograde side of the street while a Mariner office-dweller for decades, which suggests only that Stanton had only had enough of Mather’s exhausting act after his CEO broached theatre’s fifth wall—the Bellevue Rotary Club.

The real questions here don’t have to do with Mather, though. It’s not like he was some nascent genius whose occasional personality quirk and addiction to Telling The Truth were his undoing. It wasn’t like he had made the Mariners the center of Western Washington’s sporting universe, either, or even sold a record number of season tickets, or supervised the baseball side’s sudden resurgence to power in the American League West. None of those things came even remotely close to happening during Mather’s time atop the organization. He was just a plank who liked talking tough about his employees to old folks and retirees. He had a firing coming, and long before this.

But it shouldn’t have to be the Rotary Club’s job to serve as a conduit for the exposure of lard-rendered executives who not only bully staff members but publicly degrade the very product they are being asked to sell to the community. At some point Stanton knew that Mather was getting it all wrong, not just rhetorically but for the good of the company. He should have known that Mather harassing women he worked with was sufficiently dismissible, and that mocking the uniformed employees was cynically incompetent. It’s not just that HR should have told Stanton to move on from Mather on legal culpability grounds, or even that a quick look at the 2021 Baseball Prospectus Annual (starring Comrades Ley, McKinney, and Roth) would have told him that the Mariners are in no position to be denigrating their players to the Rotary, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, the Boys And Girls Club, or the midnight shift at Whole Foods. Mather was a club employee for 25 years, and even if he was a semi-agreeable sort at the start, he turned well before the inquisitors at the Rotary got their weathered mitts on him, pumped him full of sodium pentothal-infused sheet cake, and yanked his quivering tongue out of his face like a cartoon nightshade.

Evidently the management adage “nothing is offensive until you’ve offended someone in HR” was in play, here, which is ownership’s failure. Stanton should have apologized, not only for Mather but for his own leisurely pace of abhorrence. He does get credit for providing cover for the union’s own spine-free response, but this being baseball, Stanton will probably just get yelled at by his fellow owners for not giving Mather a raise and a job that kept him safely away from players, certain coworkers, the entire media, and those damned Rotary Club members for the rest of his life—or until the Mariners finish closer than three games out of first, whichever comes first.