A new decade, a new shame for the Seattle Mariners and their fans.
Shame is at the root of it. Shame as in Kevin Mather should be ashamed, as should John Stanton and Mariners ownership, to once again be the laughingstock of MLB. Unable to settle for a single insult, Mather chucked an entire collection on the floor, then strolled away, leaving a mess neither he nor his bosses have shown the skill nor the interest in cleaning up.
Mather, Stanton, and Seattle’s top brass have shown an imperviousness to shame, repercussions, and the ability to take ownership over anything other than the immense growth in value of the Mariners organization (like all of MLB). And yet the shame hasn’t disappeared, it’s just been kicked down the line. Mariners fans have felt the shame before, but Mather’s recent statements cast a shadow that now hangs over the entire baseball operations department, player development group, and even the players themselves. The team with the longest playoff drought in major North American sports had precious little to hang a hat on, and yet between a blossoming farm system and a surprisingly respectable 2020, there was reason for hope, even among the most hard-hearted. And yet, in 45 minutes, Kevin Mather did all he could to drag the entire organization to fresh, shameful depths.
Mather began work with the Mariners in 1996 as Executive Vice President of Finance and Ballpark Operations before promotions ultimately delivered to him to the title of President and Chief Executive Officer, just over seven years ago. He is the Seattle Mariners, internally at least, more than Ichiro, more than Félix, more than Kyle Seager, more than Jerry Dipoto or even Jack Zduriencik or Bill Bavasi—tenure-wise, moreso even than majority owner John Stanton, a title the latter has only had since 2016. Alex Rodriguez was 21 years old when Mather joined the executive suite in Seattle, and Ken Griffey Jr. had yet to win a MVP award. When Kevin Mather says his statements do not represent the Seattle Mariners, while at an event where he is being presented as Seattle Mariners Team President and CEO, it is a joke with no punchline. It is a shame we are so used to apologies without substance, pledges to change without follow-through, promises of accountability dissipating into the ether.
For some fans, and I say this without a flicker of judgment, the results on the field are the end-all-be-all. To those fans, Mather delivered no shortage of kneecapping blows. Mather sniped at Jarred Kelenic for betting on himself while fawning over Evan White for signing an extension, a move unlikely to improve the club’s odds of luring other takers. He spoke expectantly of free agents, anticipating them coming to Seattle with “hat in hand”—itself an especially evocative turn of phrase—after an icy winter on the market. There’s little surprising in these statements, as it is what many assume to be believed by those at the top of the organizational ladder across the league, but none before Mather has had the incompetence to lay things out so plainly. No player has successfully won a grievance against a team for service time manipulation, in large part due to the narrow interpretation for the offense. The standard of proof falls just short of a taped confession the club intends to hold a player down for those reasons, and lo, Mather has given the MLB Players Union the closest thing to that they’ve had yet. It may not be enough still, but it is bulletin board material for every frustrated union member, every disaffected minor leaguer, and every baseball operations employee attempting to instill a culture of commitment to an organization, knowing every player they face has less reason to buy in and trust than they did the day before. Mather has hurt the rebuild more than any trade or poor draft pick might; his comments undercut any efforts to cultivate a “Mariners Culture” of buy-in and development among prospects, and show just how little the players are respected by M’s brass, even as All-Star veterans.
For fans who want something more, a connection to feel pride in, there is shame too. Shame that the head of the organization cannot remember key players’ names, mispronounces others, and disparages the second language skill of his employees, while calling others overpaid. Baseball is a business, and in Mather’s case the business end is paramount. Insulting your employees, and by proxy plenty of your fans themselves, is an onion of poor management, with layer after layer revealed in 45 minutes. I have long held no confidence in the people atop the Mariners organization, as I know their inaction winter after winter betrays their lack of meaningful zeal for winning or connection to the average fan. The cost goes up while the quality and effort at the top, clearly, does not.
This shame is not new, though that makes it no less gutting. But it is the new shame that stings hardest, delivered at a moment when the franchise is in a valley once again, hoping the hill ahead is the start of the great ascent and not just another bump in the ravine. It is a shame to have somehow, already, spoiled the hope and promise of this next generation of Mariners. To insult and aggrieve the two best prospects the organization has had in at least a decade is a disaster-stroke. Mather’s comments, and the casual nature with which he reveals them, highlights the dismissive nature with which the upper crust of the organization views the players they’ve spent years encouraging fans to invest themselves in. Scuttling the enthusiasm for their debuts, and the debuts of other highly-talented youngsters like Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh is an extraordinary gut punch. Has a fanbase ever followed a top prospect as they have Kelenic, only to learn before he even debuted that he’d be likely to depart the team upon reaching free agency thanks in no small part to public insults from the head of the organization? I cannot help but lose my enthusiasm for following the players, which has been long the solace in seas of frustration across front offices and coaching staffs, knowing they are aggrieved by the very people who should ostensibly help their stars shine brighter.
It is a shame, shame, shame to know the slow drip of possibility that has nourished a resurgence of interest among fans in this community and among Mariners fans whose hearts still have the room to dream has been ground beneath the crocodile shoes of Seattle’s chief executive. I know what happens when fans lose hope entirely, how the callouses grow over and never re-open. It is a grim thing, and there is such potential for joy here still. But I do not see it now, so long as Mather remains, and so long as there is no galvanizing movement towards contrition, action, and rebuilding trust.
I hope this feeling fades, but for now all I feel is an emptiness, not a hint of surprise, but disappointment all the same. What a waste. What a shame.