“There is no excuse for what was said, and I won’t try to make one. I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the club and my partners to our players and fans. We must be, and do, better.”
Stanton’s statement also said he will be taking over as acting CEO until a replacement is found and thanked Mather for his 25 years of service to the team — 2½ decades that were hardly spotless. Earlier in his tenure, the Seattle Times reported a number of female employees accused Mather and two other team executives of inappropriate workplace conduct that resulted in the women receiving financial settlements.
In his Rotary Club speech, which was posted to YouTube over the weekend, Mather demeaned the English skills of two foreign-born Mariners employees: former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who was hired in January as a special assignment coach, and minor league outfielder Julio Rodríguez.
“For instance, we just rehired Iwakuma; he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being; his English was terrible,” Mather said. “He wanted to get back into the game; he came to us. We quite frankly want him as our Asian scout-interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training.
“And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma ‘X,’ but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better. His English got better when we told him that.”
Mather said Rodríguez, who is from the Dominican Republic, “has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous. Everybody says he’ll be here in 2021. He won’t be here till 2022 or 2023. A fantastic kid.”
The comments will echo around major league clubhouses, where teams were only recently required to have interpreters present for all Spanish-speaking players so as to give them the choice whether to answer reporters’ questions in their native language.
While a few reporters and executives try to learn Spanish to communicate with those players, most do not. Instead, almost every international player combines adjusting to professional baseball life with learning English, and many take great pride when they are comfortable enough to conduct interviews in both languages.
Corey Brock, who covers the Mariners for the Athletic, shared a story about Rodríguez’s efforts to become a better English speaker and recalled an anecdote from 2018 when the then-teenager finally felt ready:
Rodríguez himself made light of Mather’s comments with a Twitter meme:
Mather also revealed that the team planned to start top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert in the minor leagues to begin the season as a way to manipulate their major league service time and keep them with the club longer. Many teams hold prospects back from the big leagues in an effort to keep them under team control for an extra year, but rarely does anyone on the team side admit those motivations.
“It’s pretty annoying and frustrating,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told reporters Monday. “I’m glad it’s out there in the public now and people can see how it is.”
Mather’s service time declarations will almost certainly play into the Major League Baseball Players Association’s arguments against the owners when the sides — already drenched in hostility — try to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season.
The MLBPA issued a statement calling the video of Mather “a highly disturbing yet critically important window into how Players are genuinely viewed by management. Not just because 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,” the statement continued. “Players remain committed to confronting these issues at the bargaining table and elsewhere.”
Mather checked other boxes better left unchecked, too. He said the team had offered to sign Kelenic to a long-term contract but the outfielder turned it down, suggesting Kelenic is taking a risk by not taking the kind of owner-friendly deal many clubs are offering young players these days.
“Jarred Kelenic, we’ve been talking about him for a year and a half now, he will be in left field in April,” Mather said. “He’s a 21-year-old player who is quite confident. We offered him a long-term deal — a six-year deal for substantial money with options to go farther. After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he has turned us down. And in his words, he’s going to bet on himself. He thinks after six years he’s going to be such a star player that the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-year options will be undervalued. He might be right. We offered, and he turned us down.”
Finally, Mather said that Kyle Seager, the team’s full-time third baseman since 2012, was “overpaid” at $18 million this season, the final year of his contract. This prompted a response from Seager’s wife, Julie:
“I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have caused to the Seattle Mariners organization,” Mather said in the statement released Sunday. By Monday afternoon, it seemed the only way to repair that damage was to remove the man who wrought it.