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What the Mariners’ promise to “do better” might look like in their search for a new CEO

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After Mather’s resignation and Stanton’s promises that the team will do better, the Mariners must emphasize diverse backgrounds in new CEO search

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Disgraced former Mariners team president Kevin Mather’s comments were heinous enough on their own, but they continue to reverberate as fans wonder exactly how widespread executives who think like Mather—glib about manipulating service time to increase team profits, dismissive and at times openly contemptuous of players and their backgrounds—are in baseball. It’s a reminder of the privilege that runs rampant through the upper echelons of the sport, and the narrow, exclusionary worldview held by those in that rarified air. That lack of diversity isn’t just a Mariners problem; it’s a baseball problem, but currently no team is more in the crosshairs as a representative of the consequences of a lack of varied life experiences than the Seattle Mariners.

In his press conference on Monday, John Stanton claimed the Mariners are a diverse organization:

We have taken steps, even since I arrived on on scene in our front office to increase the amount of diversity and in the front office, I would note gender diversity is also very important to us.

He’s not wrong. The Ticket Services department is made up of roughly half women and people of color; same with Ticket Sales, Human Resources, Finance, Procurement, Merchandising, and Legal and Governmental Relations/Community Relations (not sure why those two are bundled together but anyway). The IT department is small, with just nine names listed, but is one of the most diverse in the building, led by the club’s lone female Senior Vice President, with a Black director of Information Systems, and over half the employees are women, people of color, or both. Marketing—a massive department encompassing everything from social media to baseball information to targeted sales to broadcasting—is less diverse, although leadership positions are held by women and people of color, and at least a third of the department is made up of women and people of color.

However, in Baseball Operations—the largest department, with 42 listed members—the face of the organization changes quickly. Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martínez, and Ichiro Suzuki are all listed as special consultants or advisors, but their various levels of involvement aren’t quite the same as an everyday employee. Beyond those three names, you can count the rest of the employees of color in Baseball Ops on one hand, and you can count the number of women in the department on one finger.

That’s important because Baseball Operations is the department where, more than anywhere else in the building, baseball gets done. It’s where scouting, analytics, and player development are housed. Unlike a job in sales or social media, the skills leveraged in this department are specific to baseball. This is the department where the future GMs and higher-level executives of baseball are cutting their teeth, and it’s a department where the Mariners—and baseball in general—are failing in diversity.

The Baseball Ops gender diversity problem stretches to on the field, as well. As of the start of the 2020 season, there were 21 women who had either on-field coaching or player development roles, a significant increase from seven in 2018 and three in 2017. None of them are with the Mariners. (These aren’t counted as “on-field jobs” by the TIDES report, but there was a female athletic trainer with the Mariners previously, Amanda Lee, and Amanda Hopkins was a scout, but I am unsure of their current employment statuses with the club after the recent financial cutbacks).

This matters because it means if the Mariners want to make a hire—specifically a woman—into a high-level Baseball Ops position, they have to go outside the organization to do so. That hasn’t worked out well with two of their last female prominent Baseball Ops hires: Lorena Martin, the Director of High Performance, who sued the team over claims of discrimination; and Leslie Manning, who ghosted the team after using Seattle as a leaping-off point to secure a position in the MLB central office. Neither of these women had any prior connection to Seattle or the Mariners; they were essentially free agents signed by the club. Compare that to other teams that have been growing their own “prospects,” like the Red Sox and Raquel Ferreira, who rose to become Assistant General Manager after starting as an administrative assistant under Theo Epstein, and you can see the position the Mariners have put themselves in by not developing and nurturing their own Raquel Ferreiras over the past forty years.

And who knows, maybe the club had a Raquel Ferreira at some point, and she was one of the assistants who left the organization after being harassed by Kevin Mather.

The good news is, in hiring a new team president, the Mariners don’t necessarily have to pick someone with a history in Baseball Operations. Mather himself had a degree in accounting and rose up through the Twins organization in the Finance department. In fact, it should be very easy for the Mariners to replace Kevin Mather with something Significantly Better Than Kevin Mather, if they’re willing to cast a wide net.

One direction they might look in is at “Chief People Officers”, which is a less-dystopian way of saying Human Resources. Andre Chambers held that title with the A’s last year, but was recently hired by the Washington Football Team, another embattled franchise, and another cost of being shackled to Mather for so long. (The Mariners should perhaps consider creating a position, as the WFT did for Chambers, who has been praised for his “unmatched track record of leading difficult culture change.” Sounds like something the Mariners could use.)

For a franchise that is facing an image crisis, looking into someone with a background in Public Relations or Communication might be wise. Staci Slaughter of the Giants has deep ties to the Bay Area and the team itself, but it sure would be nice to have a winner of MLB’s Robert O. Fishel Award—given for ethics, professionalism and humanitarianism—in Seattle’s front office. Rafaela Amador Fink, VP of Public Relations with the Rays, was instrumental in helping the team coordinate aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, including helping to salvage the results of an important cancer study. Any of these people, or people like them, could help mend the black eye currently on the face of the franchise.

Mather’s background was in finance, and he was promoted internally to team president after working as the Vice President of Ballpark Operations. That position is currently held in the organization by a white man, Trevor Gooby (who is, it should be said, seemingly delightful). The Mariners recently hired Charles Johnson as VP of corporate sales, who could be a fit from that financial side, although he’s new to the organization. Focusing solely on sales and business rather than baseball ops opens up a wide range of diverse candidates, such as Michael Shaw, VP of Customer Engagement for the Marlins.

But if the Mariners wanted to go for someone with Baseball Ops experience and a certain stature in the baseball world, Ken Williams, Executive VP of Baseball Ops for the White Sox, would be an excellent choice. Williams has some amazing life experience—his godfather raised his fist on the podium at the 1968 Olympics; his dad sued the city of San Jose for the right to be a fireman, causing the family to get death threats—and he has West Coast ties. Unfortunately for the Mariners, he’s also deeply ingrained in the White Sox organization, and beloved there.

This is the issue with so many of the strongest candidates; other teams have spent years cultivating relationships with them, while the Mariners have spent years mired in leadership that announced its toxicity to the world this past week. Bringing in someone with no connection to the previous team president, with an outside perspective and fresh ideas, is appealing; however, convincing someone with no prior connection to the club to take over as the face of the embattled Mariners franchise, a franchise with little to recommend it on the field or off of it, is the opposite of appealing.

Perhaps then, rather than a free-agent signing, the Mariners will look within the organization for a new team president, someone with an investment in the club and its people. Unfortunately, that severely limits the pool of women with access to this high-level opportunity, as the Mariners have just four female VPs in the organization, two of whom were just hired this season. However, there is a high-ranking candidate of color in the organization, with a long history of relevant service to the team, who the Mariners should consider: Kevin Martinez, Senior VP of Marketing and Communications.

Martinez has been with the club for years and is beloved by the fanbase; he’s a salesman, sure, but his genuine enthusiasm for Mariners baseball is infectious. After witnessing Mather’s thinly-veiled contempt for players writ large as he smug-mugged his way through a forty-minute Zoom call, having someone installed as team president who genuinely seems to like the organization’s players, and is likable himself, would be refreshing, to say the least. If the Mariners president is largely tasked with the financial side of the club, that might be out of Martinez’s wheelhouse, but if the Mariners president is largely tasked with getting irate fans back to the ballpark and making them happy, and doing so without being racist, sexist, or openly contemptuous of others, Martinez is a slam-dunk choice.

Team president/CEO isn’t a job that pops up around baseball often, and especially not with the Seattle Mariners, a team with a 45-year history for which Howard Lincoln was president for 28 of those years. It’s a privileged role, held by the privileged few. The Mariners have pledged, loudly and publicly, to do better. Transparency from the club about who is getting called to interview for the position is a good start. Making a hire who reflects the diversity the club claims to value so highly would be even better.