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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Larry Stone: For the Mariners, parting with blathering Mather was inevitable; now comes the hard work

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 22, 2021

From left, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, team president Kevin Mather, and owner John Stanton take part in a ceremony before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in August 2018 in Seattle.  (Ted S. Warren)
From left, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, team president Kevin Mather, and owner John Stanton take part in a ceremony before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in August 2018 in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

It took roughly 24 hours from the first telltale tweet of trouble for the Seattle Mariners to make official a decision that was inevitable. That was the reality from the minute Kevin Mather’s unconscionable Rotary Club remarks went public Sunday.

Mather’s departure Monday as president and CEO of the ballclub was the only possible resolution as the fallout grew to hurricane force. That was evident Sunday and became clearer by the hour, as the backlash grew stronger in vitriol and larger in scope.

It was termed a resignation, but we know what that often means in situations such as this. One can only assume the radio silence Monday morning from the Mariners involved machinations regarding the ultimate terminology for his departure. Chairman John Stanton declined to say whether he would have fired Mather had he not stepped down, sidestepping an opportunity to put some force behind his attempts to distance the Mariners from Mather’s comments.

That’s semantics, however. The crux is that massive harm was done to the Mariners organization and its perception by any and all of its constituencies – the players Mather upset, the fans who are called upon to support the organization, the other Mariners executives who must work around Mather’s outing of company secrets and other indiscretions, MLB officials no doubt fuming from the revelation of apparent service-time manipulation (among other dirty laundry aired by Mather) and the MLB Players Association, which now feels it has tangible evidence of how players are regarded by teams for probable use in the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

Mather stepped in it as thoroughly and irrevocably as one can do in the course of what was designed as a friendly, 45-minute breakfast Zoom appearance to drum up support for the upcoming season.

Instead, it became a jaw-dropping compendium of insensitivity, pettiness and casual airing of an attitude that seemed to have little regard for the players as anything but widgets to be exploited.

And so now the Mariners have taken the first step to repair the damage by removing the source. It would have been untenable to have Mather remain in charge of, well, basically the entire organization, with authority exceeded only by Stanton, considering that his gravitas had been compromised at literally every turn.

The next steps will be much more difficult, however. The Mariners need to somehow win back all those aforementioned entities. The process of doing so comprised the bulk of questioning during Stanton’s half-hour Zoom media session Monday, with a lot of assurances but only vague details.

“We are going to have to continue to work at it every day,” Stanton said. “I don’t think trust has been completely eroded. … You build trust over time, and you build that relationship by communicating honestly, consistently.”

Frankly, I feel Stanton is underestimating the task facing him, because skepticism, ridicule and downright vitriol toward the organization were unleashed in torrents by this incident.

One of the most telling things Stanton said, I felt, was this: “The process of building a strong organization doesn’t occur in one move or one night. Nor, in my opinion, can it be destroyed by one set of comments.”

Strong organization? Eye of the beholder. Destroyed? Perhaps not. Severely compromised? Absolutely. Especially when given the ongoing trust issues borne from the Mariners’ subpar performance over two decades.

The Mariners have tons of dedicated, hardworking, high-character folks in their organization. That’s important to note. And Stanton made the valid point that an organization is more than just the one or two people at the top. But Stanton will still have to convince people that the various uncomfortable utterances by Mather aren’t reflective of the Mariner ethos.

Stanton will start by flying from Seattle to Peoria, Arizona, to begin a fence-mending tour Wednesday. By the time he finishes the apologies he’ll need to proffer in the clubhouse alone, it might be time for Opening Day.

He said he will apologize to third baseman Kyle Seager for Mather’s assertion he is “probably overpaid” – which is actually not true when you look at the totality of his career. There is a generally accepted formula by numbers-crunchers that one win of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is worth roughly $8 million. If you take Seager’s 32.8 career WAR, FanGraphs has calculated that his career value is $247.3 million. According to Baseball Reference, Seager has been paid about $83 million in his career – which makes him vastly underpaid for the totality of his Mariners tenure.

Stanton will also apologize to top prospect Julio Rodriguez for Mather’s disparaging remarks about the quality of his English (which were totally off base). And no doubt to Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi and coach (and former Mariners pitcher) Hisashi Iwakuma regarding Mather’s comments about interpreters.

Stanton needs to have a particularly deft touch in soothing the feelings of Rodriguez and fellow prospect extraordinaire Jarred Kelenic, whom the Mariners hope will be the cornerstones of their future. Stanton denied that Mather’s outlining of a strategy that can only be construed as service-time manipulation reflected the organizational stance, but that’s a dubious assertion. As team president, Mather oversaw baseball operations, and to think that he wasn’t privy to their MO regarding two players whose service time could well mean the difference of tens of millions of dollars down the road is hard to swallow.

Indeed, there will be myriad fires for Stanton put out – too many to delineate here. Manager Scott Servais, who will address the team Tuesday, and general manager Jerry Dipoto obviously will have a part in that, too. Mather made their jobs much more difficult in the span of those same 24 hours.

But the biggest reparations will have to be done with Mariners fans. This was a massive body blow to a group that desperately wants to have a team to rally behind – and often feels that the Mariners thwart them at every turn.

Until the team reaches the stage of serious, perennial contention, the Mariners, as their top priority, need to demonstrate that at all turns they will do the right thing. That’s at once a gross simplification and the whole matter in a nutshell. It’s something that’s impossible to define, but you know it when you see it.

Much more to the point, you know it when you don’t see it.

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