PEORIA, Ariz. — This was not the day that was expected or desired, but it’s the day Seattle manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto were given to endure by their former boss and his calamitous comments that have rocked the organization.
The Mariners’ collection of around 70 players invited to major-league camp took the field Tuesday for its full-squad spring training workout. With a bright sun and temperatures in the mid-70s, the conditions were perfect for a day that should’ve been about hope, possibility and optimism for the season, or even a day about, well, baseball.
Instead, both men were trying to mop up the mess left by former CEO and president Kevin Mather, and trying to turn the focus to baseball instead of the incendiary things were said in Mather’s 45-minute Zoom call with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club.
Dipoto was made available to media members on an unexpected video conference call early Tuesday.
“I thought it was important to get with all of you before your time with Scott as our full staff and our players are in camp for their first day,” Dipoto said. “Just to take a chance to address at least the baseball portions of what has happened over the course of these last 74-75 hours. It’s been a difficult couple of days … for our players, for our staff, for me, our baseball operations team, and all of the Mariners; that’s the reality. I think the most important thing was to spend some time with you to answer the baseball questions and just re-humanize our players.”
Mather managed to not only insult or offend several individual Mariners players by name, but he also angered larger groups, specifically Latin American and Asian players.
As the general manager, Dipoto has to walk through all that was wrought by Mather and somehow repair the damage moving forward.
“We need to be sensitive and make sure that they understand where we are, and frankly to address the stigma that’s now associated with our team, which I don’t think is the way we see ourselves, and that includes our players and our staff,” Dipoto said. “It’s something I hope we’re able to shed pretty quickly and get back to who we are. But we can’t get beyond the situation that exists today. And we have to address it head on.”
As everyone, Dipoto found out on Sunday about the Mather comments and was stunned.
“I’ve not talked to him since Saturday,” he said of Mather. “I’m not here to make this an inquisition about Kevin and his comments. I would rather this be about Mariners, how we repair the relationship with our players, with our fans in our own Mariners community and move forward. The thing that was most bothersome was the tone and … the totality of the comments. They were hurtful or insulting to a lot of people. And I made sure that our players knew that that wasn’t the way we see it.”
Servais normally relishes the first day of full-squad workouts to deliver his opening speech, which outlines expectations and goals on the micro and macro levels for each day and the entirety of the season. It’s something he puts a great deal of research, thought and preparation into each offseason.
Mather’s comments made sure that wouldn’t go on as previously planned.
“I’m very grateful for how they’ve handled everything that’s happened in the last 48 to 72 hours, and it doesn’t surprise me,” Servais said of his players. “It really doesn’t. We talk about doing the right thing, and they continue to do it and it’s because of the character of this group. We talk about character, and what adversity does. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. And I really like what I’ve seen in how we’ve handled this so far. It hasn’t been easy.”
Servais still had his annual meeting, which was held in the outfield and not in the clubhouse due to social distancing guidelines. Both he and Dipoto spoke to the team about Mather’s comments.
“Jerry gave an apology on behalf of the organization,” pitcher Marco Gonzales said. “I think it’s something that we all feel embarrassed by. We all feel that it doesn’t represent our culture and it doesn’t reflect the character of this team. It is a little bit of a gut punch, but something that we can move forward from.”
Why did Dipoto feel the need to apologize to players for something his former boss said?
“Many of them were brought up in our minor league system that stresses community, truth telling and doing the right thing,” he said. “And they watched a circumstance where we as an organization didn’t do the right thing. And we have to be accountable to them. And I believe our players are pointed in the right direction. They know that this is not indicative of the way they’ve been treated here with the Mariners.”
Dipoto and Servais spent the past two days having individual conversations with several players who were mentioned by Mather specifically and were bothered by his comments about them.
“The temperature was very hot with a number of guys,” Servais said. “Certainly the ones whose names were mentioned for a number of different reasons. It wasn’t surprising at all.”
Servais admitted his temperature was near boiling when Mather’s comments and video went viral. He initially worried about this providing a needless and unending distraction for a team that is largely inexperienced in service time and in life.
“This been extremely difficult for everybody in our organization, players, coaching staff, all employees, and everyone that’s got pride in being a Mariner was hurt by the inaccurate comments that were made,” Servais said. “For me personally, I gotta say, I was very angry. I was embarrassed. And I’m frustrated because I know how hard we are working as a group to create a culture that we’re proud of. And I feel very strong where we’ve done a lot to do that. That’s why the last couple days have been so hurtful.”
The individual conversations with players and the work done by the team’s veteran group of Gonzales, Kyle Seager, Kendall Graveman and James Paxton provided reassurance for Servais and Dipoto.
“A couple of our guys have reached out to our young guys and I’ve certainly made my rounds to a couple of them,” Gonzales said. “But I’d like to highlight Kendall Graveman as one of the leaders of this group as well. He’s taken it upon himself to reach out to these guys personally, make sure that if they have any questions about how to respond, how to talk about this, how to move forward. He’s been there for them. I’ve been proud of our veterans in this group who have taken a step forward and gotten out ahead of this to bring us closer together.”
Gonzales, whom Mather labeled as “very boring” while highly embellishing a story about a physical altercation with Mike Leake, was the first player to speak to the media about the situation.
As the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff, Gonzales called the situation “an unfortunate distraction,” while providing the perspective from the players.
“The positive is that we’ve built a really solid culture here over the last couple years,” he said. “We’ve built a culture in which the players are beginning to run and guide the direction of this team. This is something that we will move on from. Our group will come together.”
What made the Mather comments bothersome or irritating is they were more personal than performance-based. Players can shrug off a bad game, but personal affronts aren’t easily forgotten.
“I think bigger picture, we view this as an isolated incident,” Gonzales said. “His views are his own and certainly the relevance that he has with this team in this group is that he’s not close to us. He’s not here throwing a ball. He’s not here swinging a bat. So although some of his words were hurtful and personal certainly to me, I think we’re a lot stronger than that. It’s going to take a lot more to break this group up.”
Gonzales has an icy competitive edge that belies his boy-next-door appearance. And it’s likely he will find motivation in it. He changed his Twitter bio to read “Very boring.”
“Sometimes a common goal can unite you,” Gonzales said. “But sometimes a common enemy can do the same, but even greater. I think that’s the boat we’re in right now.”