In 1987, George Argyros tried to buy the San Diego Padres while owning the Seattle Mariners. The shocking stunt broke every ownership rule, custom and norm in MLB. Even his close friend, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, felt compelled to fine his pal, a California real estate developer who bought the club in 1981, $10,000 for calling the Padres manager, a violation of the rules against tampering with other teams.
Ueberroth also put the Mariners in trust for two months until the proposed deal inevitably fell apart, mostly because, in an observation by an anonymous source inside baseball that received wide circulation, National League owners said Argyros “wasn’t the kind of person they wanted around them.”
On the record, then-National League president Bart Giamatti called him “the James Watt of baseball,” a reference to a former U.S. secretary of the interior who had a reputation for doing foolish things in public. Giamatti was irked that Argyros, amid running the Mariners into their 10th of what would become a streak of 15 consecutive losing seasons, said publicly he wanted the Padres front office run by Dodgers Hall of Famer Steve Garvey. Without checking with Garvey.
So in 2021, here we are again, in the Circle of Eternal Mortification.
After a Rotary Club talk went public about the Mariners organization and its players that showed him to be ignorant, casually bigoted and oblivious, Kevin Mather “resigned” his presidency Monday. Mariners majority owner John Stanton issued a statement:
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) February 22, 2021
There was no surprise here; everyone who understands sports knew that Mather was done the minute the Feb. 5 speech to the Bellevue Rotary went public. The only point of interest to me in Stanton’s statement was this:
“We have a lot of work to do to make amends . . .”
As if 20 years without playoffs wasn’t enough, as if being MLB’s only team without a World Series appearance wasn’t enough, as if playing out a dreary, years-long “step back” strategy to gain competitive contention wasn’t enough, as if managing a franchise around a pandemic wasn’t enough, now the Mariners have a lot of work to do to make amends for Mather.
He’s the new Argyros/Watt caricature. The self-destructive Mariners are the team no one wants to be around. In today’s world, we should mask up in their presence.
I don’t think Mather’s comments will have material impact on the play of the 2021 Mariners. His clumsy denigrations will soon be forgotten by players, especially since they likely will never see Mather again. For them, it’s spring training, see-ball, hit-ball, etc.
In a Zoom conference with reporters Monday afternoon, Stanton said that after he was on 30 to 40 calls Sunday with fellow owners, baseball staff and Commissioner Rob Manfred, Mather made the decision easy by resigning.
“I didn’t have to make that decision,” he said. “I came in this morning, and Kevin resigned. I believe that that’s the right answer for the organization.
“It was for me, the accumulation of all of the comments. 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.”
What will linger from this stink is the fact that the Mariners knew how Mather spoke and thought, and indulged him. They had to — he was president since 2014, and for 25 years as a club executive.
In his talk, Mather certainly didn’t seem drunk or angry. He was very comfortable in dogging his own people.
His casually indifferent manner to Rotarians conveyed a filter-free obliviousness to how a CEO must conduct himself as second in command to Stanton, who joined ownership in 2001 when he bought out the minority shares of John McCaw, a former colleague at McCaw Cellular.
Clearly Stanton and Mather have known each other a long time, so it’s hard to believe Stanton was surprised at anything Mather said Feb. 5. Stanton has been a part of promoting Mather, and standing by him when the Mariners were rocked in 2018 by disclosure of a harassment scandal that went back to 2009-10. Settlements were paid to three female employees, and two other execs lost their jobs. Mather kept his job.
Apparently secure in his world, Mather proceeded to call two of his senior players overpaid (Kyle Seager) and boring (Marco Gonzales), mispronounced the names of two players (Jarred Kelenic and Luis Torrens), criticized two international players (Hisashi Iwakuma and Julio Rodriguez) for failing to grasp English fast enough to suit him, and admitted holding back prospects from playing in the 2020 stump season to avoid starting their service time clocks.
That public admission was jumped on by the players association as an ah-hah moment in its fraught relationship with owners, adding a log on the fire that may create a work stoppage in 2022 after the collective bargaining agreement expires in December.
The national release by MLBPA:
The Club’s video presentation is a highly disturbing yet critically important window into how Players are genuinely viewed by management. Not just because of what was said, but also because it represents an unfiltered look into Club thinking.
It is offensive, and it is not surprising that fans and others around the game are offended as well. Players remain committed to confronting these issues at the bargaining table and elsewhere.
So the blather of Mather is now a matter of national baseball contention. As it deserves to be. As does shame.
Incredibly, Mather turned an answer about upgrades to Seattle’s academy in the Dominican Republic into a put-down of its players.
Talking about the club’s $30 per diem for players, he said, “Surprise, surprise! They’d get in trouble because they wouldn’t know how to speak the language or make change or even buy dinner.”
Why would anyone in leadership of an international sports organization think to share publicly that cruel stereotype not of the players’ making? Unless, of course, he was a closet bigot.
I don’t think the Mariners lead MLB in scandals per square baseball yard, especially given the early George Steinbrenner years owning the Yankees. But they certainly lead in the ratio of scandals per championships won. At least, when Steinbrenner upended the table, he compensated fans with six World Series wins during his active stewardship.
The Mather firing comes on the same day that the Seattle Times reported a resolution was reached between the club and former high performance director Dr. Lorena Martin, who sued the Mariners in December 2018. She alleged she had been fired in retaliation for complaints to Stanton, Mather and another team owner about racial and gender discrimination.
The suit was moved to arbitration, per terms of her contract. No explanation for the resolution was provided by either side, and the Mariners maintained an investigation by MLB found no wrongdoing.
But her hire was ballyhooed by general manager Jerry Dipoto as a sign that the Mariners were on the cutting edge. It turned ugly for reasons not tied directly to baseball. Just as the harassment settlement against Mather, as well as his Rotary talk, were not directly involved in game outcomes.
The episodes were around baseball, but more directly part of the work culture supervised by Stanton, and embarrassing to baseball locally and nationally.
As were many in the Argyros era, they were all unforced errors, complicating an already difficult game to win, as the Mariners have proven.
Beset by historic baseball ineptitude, the Mariners are champions only of the unforced errors that require amends to be made, the errors that give fans, players and agents reasons to not want to be around the club.
As majority owner, and temporarily the CEO and president, it is all on Stanton to stop the free fall. He’s had his three strikes. And fergawdsakes, stay clear of the ruthless Bellevue Breakfast Rotary.