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There is no best-case scenario

In the Mariners’ front office nightmare, everyone is a loser.

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

48 hours ago, things looked bleak for Mariners fans. The team was headed for a soft rebuild, seemingly caught in between contention and concession, with a needle’s eye target for success once again the goal. There’s excitement to be found in a challenging goal. Mariners fans are more familiar with that than most. But two days later, after the accusations leveled by Dr. Lorena Martin, the vehement defense offered by the Mariners organization, and the subsequent hinting by both sides of individuals ready to corroborate their cases, the only thing left uncertain is the degree of dysfunction and misery the next few days/weeks/months/years will bring everyone involved.

As Isabelle tactfully put it yesterday, there is simply nothing positive to glean right now.

“I don’t hope her allegations are true, nor do I hope they are false. I don’t hope for anything because at this point there’s little hope to be had.”

The Mariners’ top brass stand accused of a litany of blatantly racist and sexist statements. It’s next to impossible for these allegations to be proven without a doubt unless Dr. Martin can produce recordings or documentation from HR reports, including admission of the incidents discussed. Conversely, while the Mariners may be able to legally swat aside Dr. Martin’s accusations on account of a lack of incontrovertible proof, that will never fully resolve the matter. For many fans and players, Jerry Dipoto, Scott Servais, and Andy McKay will have their names forever linked to these allegations. Engaging in full denial, even if justified, leaves little room for a constructive discussion about why Dr. Martin felt compelled to make these claims. This will be long, it will be messy, and there will be no kumbaya.

One side of the issue is easy, if grisly, to envision. If Dr. Martin’s accusations can be proven true, none of the three most recognizable members of the Mariners’ front office/coaching staff can remain. There is a pathway for redemption and absolution in the public eye for statements and actions like those alleged this week, but they begin with acknowledgment of error and an expression of desire for improvement, not a vehement denial of wrongdoing. The reputation of the Mariners organization—already laboring under a bleak reputation on the field, in addition to the ongoing embarrassment regarding revelations of sexual harassment against current Team President Kevin Mather and former executives Chuck Armstrong and Bob Aylward—has been tarnished in a lasting manner. If Dipoto, McKay, and/or Servais are implicated by any of the evidence to come, the Mariners’ entire organizational structure will be in need of uprooting. The organization may strive to proceed with business as usual, but for fans and others linked, however tangentially, to the organization, it’s hard to imagine anything less appealing than Mariners baseball right now.

If the Mariners believe, TRULY believe, their GM, Manager, and Head of Player Development to be innocent, and manage to lay clearly false as many of Dr. Martin’s claims as possible, the results will still be devastating. If the Mariners are able to prove the allegations demonstrably false--notably, a different burden than simply satisfying the needs of whatever investigation MLB makes--this will undoubtedly color the perceptions of the Mariners organization for years to come. If Dipoto, McKay, and Servais are cleared of wrongdoing then there’s no reason to expect they won’t continue in their respective roles. Dr. Martin, on the other hand, will have torpedoed her career in sports (though that may well be the case regardless of the perceived veracity of her claims). But this will remain a black mark on the organization’s history for diehard and casual fans alike. More likely, the investigations deliver a privately-reached conclusion with plenty of gray area and a terse public statement, leaving questions that we will never be able to resolve.

The organization will have announced, with great fanfare, the hiring of a Latinx woman for what was billed as a transcendent role in the organization, and subsequently failed to implement the goals of her hiring. Dr. Martin’s acquisition was treated with as much hype by Dipoto and their staff as any move that offseason or any other time, albeit in the midst of their ultimately failed pursuit of Shohei Ohtani. The list of responsibilities was immense, but the belief was said to be there:

“[Dr. Martin will be] responsible for coordinating all aspects of the Mariners physical and mental training approach of players and staff, including oversight of the entire organization’s medical, strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental skills departments.”

It was Dipoto himself who also stated Dr. Martin would have the final say in playing time with regards to scheduling days of rest, from Shannon Drayer back in November, 2017:

“...I flat out asked Dipoto if it was buck stops here with Dr. Martin and he said it absolutely was. Buy in is critical and it appears they have it now with the staff.”

Instead, Dr. Martin feels not only was she discriminated against and exposed to discriminatory activity, but her the uncertainty of her role was frequently a source of friction that put her at loggerheads with Dipoto, Servais, and Andy McKay.

Regardless of your feelings on the allegations of discrimination, it’s nigh impossible to read through the allegations on each side and think Dr. Martin was provided with the resources necessary to have a snowball’s chance of succeeding in that immense list of tasks tallied in the quote above, especially without being given a full complement of a support staff. It is wonderful to make a trailblazing hire, but naive at best to put a trailblazer in place without a support scaffolding and expect they will seamlessly transition into an infrastructure that was built without their input. Dr. Martin had three strikes against her already in coming into this job as a Latina woman who came from outside the baseball world, as insular a world as there is in professional sports. It seems that the Mariners organization woefully underestimated the amount of support she would need in order to achieve the lofty goals laid out in her hiring, both on and off the field.

In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Audre Lorde notes “revolution is not a one-time event,” yet the Mariners, in the most generous reading of the current situation, launched a massively aspirational overhaul of sports fitness and health training in the famously hidebound sport of baseball, seemingly in a half-assed fashion. They compounded that by placing the job in the hands of a Latinx woman with an immaculate resumé but no aides or infrastructure to ease the transition. In fact, if Dr. Martin’s assertion about Servais’ response to her attempts to introduce and integrate herself into the clubhouse are to be believed, her efforts to integrate were rebuffed. If every last allegation is false, the Mariners are still guilty of misappraising and overhyping an ill-equipped candidate for a position they were not organizationally prepared to implement. It is a far less egregious crime than one of institutional racism and sexism, but still an indictment of the trajectory and decision-making of those in the upper echelon of the front office.

Mariners fans are now faced with a trio of possibilities in appraising their beloved team. A culture of unexpected evil, a frustrating reinvention of ineptitude they’re all too familiar with, or, likeliest of all, some blend of the two. What is there to hope for? The results of an MLB investigation that is doubtful to deliver in any significant or speedy conclusions? The shipping off of the last few remnants of a roster that once held such promise? The charismatic promises of a General Manager and his staff whose calm poise will feel eerie more than soothing?

I have never struggled to find cause for enthusiasm in Mariners baseball before this year, but whether you were an enthusiast or a skeptic of this front office, no one expected something like this. A decade ago this story might have been swept under the rug (much like the earlier reports of sexual harassment), but between social media and a raised collective intelligence/access in fandom, this type of incident will not dissipate quickly. I don’t know where the Mariners go from here. I don’t know where their fans go either. It’s impossible to consider spending money to attend Mariners games in 2019 right now, even as I already miss seeing Robinson Canó, Mitch Haniger, Edwin Díaz, Félix Hernández, and Marco Gonzales play. We’ll see what information trickles out over the coming weeks and months, but right now Mariners fandom is broken, and it may take years to repair the damage that’s been done. Only after many revolutions will the changes be enough.