Straight to the point: Kevin Mather’s employment with the Mariners should be finished. Every minute he’s still on the job is a further indictment of the organization and what it stands for.
It’s not just that Mather — who as president and CEO is the highest-ranking club official besides chairman John Stanton — massively embarrassed the ballclub and needlessly angered half the clubhouse with his recent remarks to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club that surfaced Sunday.
That will do irreparable harm in its own right to a team that has already lost the faith of its fan base — deservedly so — and now faces a potentially rebellious squad.
But the clincher is Mather’s highly inappropriate attitude regarding the Mariners’ foreign players. He comes across as elitist, entitled and culturally insensitive, and that’s an indefensible combination.
The Mariners like to boast about the great culture they’ve built in their organization. However, these remarks by Mather to the Rotary Club two weeks ago reflect an ailing culture at the very top.
As one person wrote Sunday on Twitter, “The Mariners have to show this isn’t who they are as an organization.”
That’s exactly right. You can be misguided, and you can even be incompetent. But don’t compound it with remarks that make the entire baseball world cringe, and make their own fans ashamed to be aligned with the Mariners.
Because at this point, beleaguered Mariner fans just want a team and organization in which they can take pride, even if they don’t get one that can bring home championships. At the very least, they want one that won’t humiliate them.
That’s not too much to ask. In fact, it’s the bare minimum for a ballclub that certainly hasn’t given them that on the field. Seattle’s ignominious streak of 19 consecutive years excluded from the playoffs will almost certainly extend to 20 in 2021. Better days may indeed be ahead as a result of their two-years-old-and-counting rebuilding program — but they’re not here yet. And until they arrive — no guarantee despite all the glittering prospects — talk of an impending Mariners renaissance is hearsay, inadmissible in the court of public opinion.
If Mather had one “get out of jail free” card for offensive behavior, he used it up with the revelation by The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker and Mike Baker in 2018 that Mather, in 2009-10, was accused of inappropriate workplace conduct by two women who worked for the Mariners as executive assistants. At the time of the allegations, Mather was executive vice president of finances and ballpark operations.
The story detailed the allegations from the first woman, according to a letter to the Mariners from Seattle lawyer Robin Phillips, “that Mather had repeatedly rubbed her back and made suggestive comments that made her feel uncomfortable. In interviews with The Times, a former colleague of the woman recalled her taking steps to avoid interactions with Mather, and another recalled her privately expressing frustration at Mather’s interactions.”
According to the article, the second woman — Mather’s executive assistant — “said he was mean and had made her uncomfortable with inappropriate jokes and comments about female colleagues in her presence, according to two people familiar with the complaint.”
When the story appeared, the Mariners issued a statement acknowledging that Mather had been the subject of two workplace complaints from female employees. The team said that it had “made amends” to the workers. Mather said he had learned from the mistakes.
Mather was kept in his position by Stanton after the article appeared in 2018. There also was no fallout after the Mariners were sued later that year for wrongful termination by Dr. Lorena Martin, their former high performance director, who lobbied allegations of racism and sexism at the organization.
Now there’s this. Three strikes, and you’re out. Mather released an apology Sunday night, but that’s too little, too late. His Rotary Club debacle gets worse with every listening. The disclosure of Mather’s remarks is causing a collective firestorm of ire against the Mariners that appears unstoppable — hardly the vibe they need going into a season they’ve touted as the final step of their rebuild. More to the point, hardly the example of a corporate vision that should be emanating from the board room.
On the video, you’ll hear Mather make comments sure to anger and/or offend the two players upon whom much of their future hopes have been pinned, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. Not to mention their most senior and decorated player, Kyle Seager, whom Mather called “overpaid.”
You’ll hear Mather refer several times to catcher Luis “Torres” when meaning Luis Torrens, who was acquired at midseason last year and will share the starting catching duties with Tom Murphy. An innocent mistake, perhaps, but Mather didn’t have any problem with the name of another player acquired in the same trade, Ty France.
More damningly, when asked an open-ended question about Rodriguez — a golden opportunity to gush about their charismatic outfielder who has a chance to be a superstar — Mather begins by saying, “Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined.”
OK, so far so good. Then Mather continues, “He is loud, his English is not tremendous.”
That’s really the first thing that comes to mind? First of all, Rodriguez is here to be a ballplayer, not Winston Churchill. He grew up speaking Spanish in the Dominican Republic, so his language skills should not be judged as some kind of barometer of his character.
But that observation is also completely, utterly and shockingly wrong. Rodriguez’s English is superb, and one of the most impressive things about him. He took it upon himself to learn the language so he could communicate with teammates, and at age 20 has done so marvelously. As I wrote in a column in 2019 after interviewing Rodriguez in the Arizona Fall League, “Rodriguez is friendly, engaging and insists on doing all his interviews in English, of which he has perfect command despite growing up in the Dominican Republic and not coming to the United States until this past season.”
That is objectionable enough, but Mather compounds that with his remarks about Hisashi Iwakuma when asked an innocuous question about what the team does to teach English to foreign players. Iwakuma, who came over from Japan, was a distinguished pitcher for the Mariners for several years and now has been brought back as a coach.
Speaking of a matter that “frustrates me,” Mather said, “ … We just rehired Iwakuma; 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.”
There’s so much wrong with that stream of thought, starting with the fact that this multibillion organization, which has thrown tens of millions of dollars at mediocre ballplayers, would begrudge a native Japanese player a $75,000 interpreter — a service that is provided to virtually every Japanese player in the majors.
But it’s just a wrongheaded notion to be upset because a Japanese player may not be comfortable speaking a completely new language. It conveys a kind of microaggression that speaks volumes. As baseball writer Joe Sheehan tweeted, “Trying to get my head around Mather going after a Japanese player who used a translator and a young Latin player still learning English when the two most popular Mariners this century are a Japanese player who used a translator and a young Latin player who learned English.”
The references, of course, are to Ichiro and Felix Hernandez. Honestly, I’m still trying to get my head around the totality of the mess that Mather created. He obviously didn’t expect his words to get beyond the Rotary Club, an incredibly naive judgment in this day and age.
But if those words represent his innermost thoughts and reflect his judgment, Mather doesn’t deserve to preside over the Mariners anymore.