By Tim Booth
In one 45-minute conversation, Kevin Mather undermined the Seattle Mariners far beyond being the organization with the longest playoff drought in baseball.
He took insensitive shots at a former All-Star from Japan and a top prospect from the Dominican Republic for their English skills. He admitted to the team possibly manipulating service time for some of its top prospects.
All this from a top executive who once was accused of harassing a female employee and kept his job despite a settlement.
The latest transgression by Mather ended up costing him his position as president and CEO of the Mariners. Mather resigned on Feb. 22 after video surfaced of him expressing his views of the club’s organizational strategy and making insensitive remarks about players during a recent online event.
Mariners Chairman John Stanton announced the decision and said Mather resigned before a decision had to be made whether he’d be fired.
But the choice seemed predetermined as the firestorm over Mather’s comments raged since they were first posted to Twitter on Feb. 21—which is how Stanton first learned of their existence. There’s been no determination whether Mather will receive a severance or what will happen to his small ownership stake in the franchise.
“There were a number of comments made by Kevin that, as I’ve said, didn’t reflect the Mariners, don’t reflect what I believe, what our ownership believes, and were inappropriate,” Stanton said. “Those comments included some of the things that have been referenced with respect to our players, and in particular the importance of diversity and inclusion in our organization.”
Mather, with the team since 1996 and promoted to CEO and team president in 2017, apologized after his comments from Feb. 5 made to the Bellevue, Washington, Breakfast Rotary Club were posted online. They were revealing and unfiltered. They were also a stain to a franchise that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2001, has seen fan interest dwindle significantly during a two-decade swoon, and are in the midst of a rebuild.
Mather’s most inflammatory comments were references to top prospect Julio Rodriguez and former star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and their grasp of English. Mather said Rodriguez, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic, didn’t have “tremendous,” English.
Mather also complained about the cost associated with having an interpreter for Iwakuma, a former All-Star who pitched a no-hitter for the Mariners and is a current special assistant for the club.
“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,” Mather said. “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.”
Stanton said he had talked several times with Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB released a statement condemning Mather’s comments.
“We condemn Kevin Mather’s offensive and disrespectful comments about several players. We are proud of the international players who have made baseball better through their outstanding examples of courage and determination, and our global game is far better because of their contributions. His misguided remarks do not represent the values of our game and have no place in our sport,” MLB said.
Mather also drew the ire of the players’ union after expressing his opinion the club would not have top prospects Jarred Kelenic or Logan Gilbert on the major league roster to start the season as a way to manipulate their service time.
Stanton insisted roster decisions have not been predetermined and general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais will make the final call.
“The club’s video presentation is a highly disturbing yet critically important window into how players are genuinely viewed by management. Not just because of what was said, but also because it represents an unfiltered look into club thinking,” the union statement read.
“It is offensive, and it is not surprising that fans and others around the game are offended as well. Players remain committed to confronting these issues at the bargaining table and elsewhere,” it said.
The video was another transgression during Mather’s tenure. A year after his promotion, Mather was issuing statements after allegations of harassment were made by two former female employees—the former executive assistants to Mather and then-Executive Vice President Bob Aylward.
Mather and Aylward each were accused by one of the female employees.
The allegations were revealed in a 2018 report by The Seattle Times. The team said it had “made amends” with those employees. The claims dated back to the late 2000s.
At the time, the club issued statements saying an outside expert conducted an investigation and “we imposed appropriate discipline, management and sensitivity training, and other corrective actions.”
Mather said it was a humbling experience for him to “confront some unpleasant realities” about himself. He took responsibility for his actions and apologized for behavior that he described as intimidating, mean and inappropriate in the workplace.
Mather first joined the Mariners as their vice president of finance and administration after beginning his career in baseball with the Minnesota Twins in 1989.
“Kevin’s departure I think is a statement with respect to the commitment that we have,” Stanton said. “He recognized that he made a mistake, and that he recognized the only way to cure that mistake was to resign.”