An hour after Kevin Mather’s resignation from the Mariners was officially announced, John Stanton gave a press conference to address questions from the media regarding Mather, the Mariners’ organizational culture, and what this means for the club going forward. Many felt dissatisfied with both the content and tone of Stanton’s answers, many of which shifted the fallout for Mather’s actions onto other members of the club (Jerry Dipoto, Scott Servais...Yusei Kikuchi?) and some of which seemed to blatantly deny both Mather’s role in shaping organizational culture and the experiences of fans (and players, and employees, and so on) who feel hurt or betrayed by the organization. As a press conference it was, to borrow a phrase, not tremendous.
First, in response to a question about whether or not Stanton would have fired Mather had the latter not resigned, he sidestepped the question by noting that Mather resigned when Stanton came in that morning, so, “I didn’t have to make that decision.” Although Stanton said he believes it’s the “right” decision for the organization, he had an opportunity to take a stand and say under no circumstances would Mather have been allowed to continue with the organization after his reprehensible comments. Instead, he pulled a Bartleby and chose not to really answer the question.
Stanton similarly sidestepped a question about Mather’s seemingly open admittance that the team participates in service time manipulation by shifting the decision-making capabilities regarding player development to Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais (and, one would have to assume, Andy McKay and the player development department). And while all of those people are likely involved to some extent regarding player development—none moreso probably than Andy McKay, who again was not mentioned by name—as Ryan Divish points out, it is facile to expect that ownership and the executive side of the club doesn’t have significant input on when a player starts getting paid more than minor league peanuts, not to mention the long-term financial effects triggered by a player’s callup. This is basic information almost every baseball fan knows, yet Stanton repeats on multiple occasions that the decision-making is primarily Dipoto and Servais, responding to a question about Jarred Kelenic by saying “I look forward to seeing him in a Mariners uniform. Jerry and Scott will make the decision as to when.”
Dipoto and Servais were similarly made to shoulder the burden when Mather was asked by Divish about the consequences of eroding trust between the organization and players, staff, and fans. Stanton started his response by saying he disagreed with Divish’s premise that trust has been “completely eroded,” a response that seems laughable for those who have participated in social media over the past two days, and comes off as disconnected from the very real feelings of betrayal and hurt that radiate through all corners of both the organization and fanbase. Stanton then went on to say:
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.
Not only does this once again dodge the question, it also shifts the burden of being a trustworthy figure off ownership and onto Dipoto and Servais, specifically Servais, who, it should be pointed out, is at the lowest rung on the organizational ladder of these three men. Furthermore, Stanton’s assertion that many of the fans look to Dipoto and Servais may well be true, especially for the casual fans who tweet #FireServais after every loss or seemingly pin every organizational failing on Jerry Dipoto alone, but Stanton’s kicker to this comment makes it clear how heavily he leans upon Dipoto’s image as a panacea: “I do think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that the primary responsibility for baseball operations resides with Jerry Dipoto.”
That talking point seems at odds with another point Stanton returned to again and again: that Kevin Mather does not represent the values of the Seattle Mariners organization, despite being the president of the Seattle Mariners organization and therefore, in no small way, emblematic of its values. Divish pushed Mather on this exact idea—how can you divorce someone so central to the club entirely from its values—to which he received this rather patronizing response:
“I would encourage you to think of an organization as more than one or two leaders, any more than [sic] The Seattle Times is simply a reflection of your publisher. The Times is a reflection of the work you do every day, Ryan. It’s a reflection of the work that Larry does. Each of your organizations is a reflection of both the people who do the work as well as the leaders, and we’re that too.”
Again, most laypeople (and, presumably, Ryan Divish) probably understand how companies work without encouragement, but they also understand that company culture is set by those at the top, the people who are literally the face of the company when they go out in public to represent it. Kevin Mather has been a member of the Mariners organization since before many fans were born, and the face of the team—both on-field, accepting and presenting awards and participating in ceremonies, and off of it, representing the Mariners in the community and at rotary club breakfasts—since 2014. It is not sufficient to say “the actions of this member of our organization do not reflect who we are” because the person in question is ipso facto a member, a body part, of the organization, and in Mather’s case, the metaphorical head of that body as both President and CEO.
And that is the ultimate failing of this press conference (aside from the audio/technical failings, which were seemingly emblematic of this whole mess). Stanton’s comments are littered with names of people in the Mariners organization, from players to front office people, a desperate reminder that there are lots of good people at the Mariners doing good work. And there are! But none of them are the team president. None of them wield the power Mather did, and Stanton does. And today, when given an opportunity to condemn Mather, Stanton sidestepped. When asked about broken trust, Stanton minimized, and shifted the burden of trust to players and other staff members. When pressed about how an organization’s president can somehow not embody the values of that organization, instead of admitting to what that reflects about the values of the organization and how those need to change, Stanton insisted those were not the organization’s values and painted Mather as a rogue bad actor instead of an interwoven part of the organization whose role stretches back decades. Today, at least, “ownership” didn’t mean “the taking of it.”