MLB and Seattle Mariners fans were given a glimpse behind the front office curtain when the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club posted a February 5 video call with Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather to YouTube. Fan and writer Joe Veyera (@JoeVeyera) posted a Twitter thread on Sunday that transcribed highlights from his talk that went viral thanks to Mather’s blatant racism, overall insensitivity and admission of service time manipulation.
THREAD: Mariners President Kevin Mather spoke with the Bellevue Rotary on Feb. 5, and the group has posted that conversation on their YouTube page. https://t.co/XINarPr1SJ
— Joe Veyera (@JoeVeyera) February 21, 2021
The video was since deleted from YouTube but re-uploaded by Tim Cantu of Lookout Landing and transcribed in full.
The post first came to my attention because fans were discussing Mather’s racist comments about former Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma. In response to a question about how the team was helping international players learn English, Mather groused about paying US$75,000 for an interpreter in addition to Iwakuma’s player salary.
As far as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, those players are typically older. They don’t come over as 16 or 18 year olds, they come over as 28, 30, 32 year olds. We typically…it frustrates me…For instance, we just re-hired 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!
Mather also criticized the English skills of Dominican-born prospect Julio Rodriguez, saying the outfielder’s English “is not tremendous.” This comment was especially notable to fans and baseball writers because the top-ranked prospect hosts an interview show in English on the Mariners’ YouTube channel.
Mariners debut interview show on YouTube hosted by top prospect Julio Rodriguez
You can “vibe” with @J_RODshow today at 3 pm on the Mariners YouTube. He will be on live and taking questions
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) October 29, 2020
This particular criticism was so outrageously false that fans didn’t seem to notice how Mather’s other comments about Rodriguez referenced stereotypes about persons of Latine ethnicity. Mather also failed to discuss Rodriguez’s talent and instead chose to discuss his relationship with the Mariners’ other top-ranked outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, who is American.
Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud, his English is not tremendous. But he and Kelenic are very good friends. He’s a year behind Kelenic, he probably…won’t be here till 2022 or 2023. Fantastic kid. We’re really big on social media, he loves to get out in front, he loves the Mariners, and between him and Kelenic, we think we’ve got an outfield that will be as good as any in baseball for the next six years. He’s the real deal. He’s ranked higher than Kelenic, which..as I said, Kelenic doesn’t lack for confidence. Kelenic is not happy that he’s the fifth highest prospect on Baseball America, and Rodríguez is the fourth highest prospect. It’s little things like that bother Kelenic.
The comments were apparently not well-received by Rodriguez, who posted a meme from “The Last Dance” to his Twitter account referencing a quote from NBA legend Michael Jordan about how he used perceived disrespect as fuel to motivate his performance on the court.
— Julio Y. Rodriguez🇩🇴🦁 (@J_RODshow) February 21, 2021
Mather also notably admitted to the practice of manipulating the service time of minor-league players in order to keep them under team control for a longer period of time. As this is a topic that has previously been the subject of a grievance filed by Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant, this will likely land Mather in hot water with the Commissioner’s Office and other team executives. During his opening remarks, Mather discussed the 2020 pandemic season, saying that there was “no chance” that the Mariners would start the “service time clock” by calling up top prospects to the majors, even if a COVID outbreak left the team shorthanded. These comments make it clear that we can stop pretending teams want to have their best players on the field at all times.
When we decided to play 60 games, every team was allowed 60 players to bring to spring training summer camp. You’d have 26-28 on your major league roster, and 30-32 players on your taxi squad…They weren’t in a bubble, but they were in a bubble…We made the decision, when we invited the 60 players, to invite 15 prospects. Our top prospects were all in Tacoma, summer camp was 30 days and then Tacoma was a 60-day practice/exhibition game. We brought 18, 19, 20 year old kids who never would have seen T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium if not for COVID. As devastating as 2020 was on player development and getting better, we took a risk and brought our high-end prospects in, really got to know them, they got high-end instruction in Tacoma. The risk was, if our major league team had had a COVID outbreak, or injuries, and we had to call people up from the taxi squad, we were a little short on players. Because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park. 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.
Not content with offending minor leaguers, Mather also undermined current players’ confidence in the organization when discussing career Mariner Kyle Seager‘s future with the club.
Kyle Seager, this is probably his last season as a Mariner. He will, and I’ve already told him, he’ll be a Mariners Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. Last year he seemed to find the Fountain of Youth, had a fantastic year, and we expect the same in 2021.
Seager’s wife Julie offered the following reaction on Twitter.
So should we put our house in Seattle on the market now, orrrrrr?
— Julie Seager (@JulieSeager15) February 21, 2021
The pace of teams’ activity in acquiring free agents over the past few offseasons has been quite slow. Mather’s comments on this subject show that this is a deliberate strategy by team executives to depress free agent salaries by leaving free agents in an uncertain position as Spring Training begins. Teams are especially looking for the upper hand in negotiations after the losses incurred during the 2020 season.
We are of the opinion, the industry lost $2.9 billion dollars, and before any of you make faces: No, nobody cares that rich owners lost money. But we lost $2.9 billion last year, and we have taken the position that there are 180 free agents still out there on February 5 unsigned, and sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over and come with hat in hand, looking for a contract. We think [Taijuan] Walker is one of them. James Paxton made $12.5 million dollars last year, and his agent has told us that he’s going to make more in 2021.
Paxton signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with Seattle, while Walker has joined the New York Mets on a two-year, $20 million deal with an option for a third year.
Mather released the following statement Sunday evening.
Statement from Kevin Mather. The Mariners are expected to make a statement tomorrow morning. pic.twitter.com/IgiNZ1IQGO
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) February 22, 2021
“I want to apologize to every member of the Seattle Mariners organization, especially our players and to our fans. There is no excuse for my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my terrible lapse in judgement.
My comments were my own. They do not reflect the views and strategy of the Mariners baseball leadership who are responsible for decisions about the development and status of the players at all levels of the organization.
I’ve been on the phone most of the day today apologizing to the many people I have insulted, hurt, or disappointed in speaking at a recent online event.
I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have caused to the Seattle Mariners organization.”
Mather is surely more sorry that he got caught than he is for his statements, which he clearly never expected to be made public. His remarks opened a window into MLB executives’ insensitive attitudes towards players and unwillingness to field competitive teams in the interest of profit. The Mariners have not made a postseason appearance since 2001, when they lost the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees. How much of their futility can be attributed to bad luck and how much can be attributed to the callousness and penny-pinching of executives like Mather?
Featured Image: Seattle, WA/ USA – March 2019: T-Mobile Park by sref11 / Shutterstock.com.