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Mariners President Kevin Mather Shows Us What A Baseball Executive Really Thinks

kevin mather
Screencap: Tim Cantu

Seattle Mariners President and CEO Kevin Mather committed what I can only describe as the baseball equivalent of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe when he spoke at length about his team to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club earlier this month. While Mather’s remarks, which became widely known to the public via a YouTube video uploaded on Friday, are likely in line with the views and disposition of most and maybe all other Major League executives, those other guys are at least rarely stupid enough to say this stuff out loud.

Mather’s comments over the course of his 45-minute appearance, which was helpfully archived in both written and video form by Lookout Landing, ran the gamut from racist to unethical to just plain dickish. Here’s a quick rundown of the lowlights, in no particular order:

  • On holding back frustrated young prospects like Jarred Kelenic from the Majors last year, Mather said: “We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster, we weren’t going to start the service time clock. There were all kinds of reasons that, if we had an injury problem or COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our prospects playing in T-Mobile Park.”
  • Mather called Mariners lifer Kyle Seager “probably overpaid,” and said he likely won’t be back in 2022, though he did add that Seager “has had a tremendous attitude.” Seager’s wife, Julie, responded in a tweet, “So should we put our house in Seattle on the market now, orrrrrr?”
  • Mather claimed that top outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez probably wouldn’t be called up until 2022 or ’23, adding that he was “a year behind” Kelenic, and that his English was “not tremendous.” Rodriguez responded on Twitter with a fairly uncryptic Michael Jordan meme and the word “motivation” with a devil emoji and a graph trending upward.
  • Though the Mariners have one of the league’s lowest payrolls heading into 2021, Mather said that their financial situation was not so bad relative to other clubs. “We punch well above our weight on the television deal,” he said. “We had 60 games, and per game, we got a lot more than we probably deserved compared to other similar sized markets. Terrible year financially, but we did better than most.”
  • On the area around the Mariners’ ballpark: “I worry about the neighborhood. You know, we have employees that show up at 4:15 and leave at 10 o’clock at night … and so I hire police to escort them to their cars, as they check out and punch out, and they walk in groups in their escort with police. We got to do something about our neighborhood.” (Some context: In 2018, the Mariners fought affordable housing and homelessness prevention advocates in order to get over $100 million in public money for stadium maintenance.)
  • On 2017 first-rounder Evan White’s contract, which locks him in until 2029 at a very low price if he lives up to expectations: “He took a lot of heat for signing that deal, the union really pushed back and said, ‘Don’t do it.'”
  • As part of his response to a question about how the club helped players from outside the U.S. learn English, Mather said, “We just re-hired [Hisashi] Iwakuma [as a special-assignment coach]. He was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, he came to us, we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training. And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. 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!”

Amid some very public tomato-hurling from fans and, I’m sure, a tornado of disgust within the organization and around the league, Mather released a statement late Sunday night. In it, he makes the dubious claim that his comments as president and CEO “do not reflect the views and strategy of the Mariners baseball leadership,” though he did at least refrain from describing a deep drive to left-center by Castellanos in the middle of his apology.

Mather, who was promoted to president in 2014 and later had CEO added to his title, has apparently held enough sway with his past and present bosses that not even a pair of complaints from female co-workers and reported financial settlements could sever him from the team. In 2018, the Seattle Times published a story saying that, nearly a decade earlier, Mather had been accused of saying inappropriate suggestive comments and repeatedly making an executive assistant uncomfortable by rubbing her back. The Mariners, in response, released a statement saying that they “made amends” with the women.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to change my behavior and the management training I received,” Mather said at the time.

So it’s not really news that this guy seems like an awful jerk, but it’s possible that this time, Mather has infuriated people who actually hold some power over him. The explicit service-time manipulation comments are going to further inflame a players’ union that already has a book-length list of valid complaints. The Iwakuma bit won’t sit well with any of the team’s international players. Seager, the team’s most-respected veteran, seems pretty bothered. And the next generation of Mariners aren’t going to have any love for him either.

Who exactly does that leave on his side? His buddies at the Rotary Club, I suppose. But there’s no way Mather did a good enough job leading the M’s that all these self-inflicted headaches aren’t just cause for kicking him to the curb.

Update (7:25 p.m. ET): Mather has resigned.