PEORIA, Ariz. – Less than 24 hours after a video of an early February speech given to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club went viral, featuring an array of controversial and incendiary comments about players in the organization he represents, and less than 12 hours after offering an apology and promising to make amends to everyone he insulted or offended – a proposition that seemed unlikely and impossible – Kevin Mather resigned his position as the team’s chief executive officer and president effective immediately.
The Mariners announced Mather’s resignation in a statement from team chairman and managing partner John Stanton released to the media Monday at 1 p.m.
“Like all of you, I was extremely disappointed when I learned of Kevin Mather’s recent comments.
“His comments were inappropriate and do not represent our organization’s feelings about our players, staff, and fans.
“There is no excuse for what was said, and I won’t try to make one. I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the club and my partners to our players and fans. We must be, and do, better.
“We have a lot of work to do to make amends, and that work is already underway.
“Kevin Mather has resigned his position effective immediately. I want to thank Kevin for his 25 years of service to our franchise.
“I will serve as acting President and CEO until a successor can be chosen.
“Everyone at the Seattle Mariners remains committed to our mission of winning on the field and serving our fans and communities off the field. We will demonstrate that commitment through our actions.”
The statement was lacking much in detail about an emotional and scrutinized situation that took far longer than expected to be resolved. Stanton held a video press conference that was supposed to start at 2 p.m., but technical difficulties pushed it back by 15 minutes.
Once it finally got started, it seemed clear that he had been blindsided by Mather’s obtuse and objectionable oversharing of information, some of it construed as offensive by many fans and some of the team’s own players.
“I first learned that the comments existed from a tweet yesterday late morning, and then got a hold of the YouTube link, and read a transcript,” Stanton said. “I was terribly concerned about that. I talked to Kevin. And then I talked to a number of other people in our organization, including most of my partners and much of management. I came in this morning and Kevin was prepared to resign. And I accepted his resignation.”
Given the fact that Mather released his apologetic statement late Sunday evening, vowing to make amends and repair the damage he had wrought, it seemed as though the organization was leaning toward maintaining Mather’s employment. MLB sources felt that the Mariners were working to avoid a termination.
What changed in that time?
“I believe that for all of us, it was the speed with which things unfolded, even though the talk he had given was two-plus weeks ago, at least I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday,” Stanton said. “I don’t think Kevin was aware that there was a tape of it until yesterday. And things happened very rapidly. I probably made 30 phone calls yesterday and another 30 or 40 today. So I think that is probably true for Kevin as well. He started to read a lot of the press, frankly. I’m sure that influenced him as well.”
Stanton mentioned that Mather had specifically read a column in the Seattle Times demanding his dismissal.
But if Mather hadn’t offered his resignation Monday morning, would Stanton have fired him with cause instead?
“I didn’t have to make that decision,” he said to the direct question. “I came in this morning, and Kevin resigned. I believe that that’s the right answer for the organization.”
It’s also a convenient answer for the organization and possibly an economically feasible solution for Mather as well.
Stanton confirmed that Mather has a small share of ownership in the Mariners franchise as part of his promotion to team president in 2014 when longtime president Chuck Armstrong retired. But there was no definitive answer as to whether Mather was going to remain a part of the minority ownership group.
“Frankly, we haven’t addressed that issue yet,” Stanton said.
Another issue would be any sort of severance package or buyout given to Mather upon his resignation. It’s something often written into the contracts of high-level executives, specifically CEOs, based on revenues generated or other success goals met.
“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Stanton said. “The news announcement is only a couple hours old. I had my first meeting with him and he’ll meet with some of our legal and (human resources) people going forward.”
Two of Stanton’s many calls were with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
“I value his counsel,” Stanton said. “This was entirely a local decision. But we’re a part of a larger universe within Major League Baseball, and I thought it was important to both apprise the commissioner as to what was going on here, as well as to seek his advice. He’s dealt with a lot of issues in baseball for a number of years during his career, and I very much appreciated the advice he was able to give me.”
The search for finding a replacement for Mather begins immediately with building a list of prospective candidates. Stanton will meet with members of the leadership team over the next few weeks as well.
“This is an opportunity for us to look and see if there are opportunities to do things better,” he said. “But from my point of view, I don’t begin this role (interim CEO) with any expectation that there will be meaningful changes in the structure.”
As Stanton watched the YouTube video before it was eventually removed from YouTube and re-read the comments over and over, he wasn’t struck by any one comment from Mather as being the worst.
And there were plenty of concern: the mention of service time concerns and delaying the call-up of Jarred Kelenic, incorrectly saying that Julio Rodriguez’s English was not tremendous, complaining about paying $75,000 for an interpreter for Hisashi Iwakuma, labeling Kyle Seager overpaid, embellishing a story about Marco Gonzales, discussing their willingness to gamble and wait on the free agent market to save a little extra money and more.
“It was for me, the accumulation of all of the comments,” Stanton said. “It wasn’t an individual comment, although there were certainly a number that were particularly unfortunate. It was the fact that the entire commentary reflected a number of views that were not consistent with the Mariners organization.”
Besides his released statement, Stanton mentioned a number of times that Mather’s comments weren’t reflective of the organization and their leadership strategy and plans.
When asked how that was possible since Mather was the CEO and president of the organization, which meant he had direct input or ultimate approval on anything regarding dollars spent or earned, Stanton downplayed such assumptions.
“Just like any relationship, and just like the relationship we have with all of you, we can just do our best job to try to improve what we are,” Stanton said. “Kevin’s departure, I think is a statement with respect to the commitment that we have. He recognized that he made a mistake, and he recognized the only way to cure that mistake was to resign. I recognized that it’s important to move forward and was willing to take on this role on an interim basis. And I’m doing that. But I would encourage you to think of an organization as more than one or two leaders.
“We’re trying to get better. We’re going to get better. We’re going to focus on it. And when there is a mistake, you’ve got to apologize, correct and move on.”
Part of that moving is trying to rebuild all that Mather broke in the span of 45 minutes. Regardless of proclamations from the Mariners, there has been some fraying in the relationships between the front office/baseball leadership and the players over the past two seasons. The decision to rebuild and not try to put the best players on the field was difficult for some veterans to accept and endure. Kelenic’s frustration over not being called up last season was apparent. And the common knowledge that the ownership group reduced the payroll budget this offseason and wouldn’t add via free agency to help the team win in the immediate future was galling.
Mather provided further verification with a callous and indifferent tone in his comments in the entirety. Most players understand it’s a business, but he offered a reminder while making them feel like commodities.
How is the trust regained? Stanton doesn’t believe it was completely lost. He hopes to meet with the team and the mentioned players individually Wednesday in Arizona. But a portion of it seems to fall on the shoulders of general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais to repair any damage done.
“I don’t agree with the premise,” Stanton said. “I don’t think that the trust has been completely eroded. I believe that Jerry is highly respected. I believe that Scott is highly respected. And in the clubhouse those are the two people, Scott in particular, that the players look at. I think that that’s who many of the fans look to as well.
“In terms of building trust going forward, you build trust over time, and you build that relationship by communicating honestly, consistently. We will do everything we can as an organization to continue to build that trust. But I do think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that the primary responsibility for baseball operations resides with Jerry Dipoto. And I think that Jerry does everything he can to build good relationships, as does Scott.”
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