Mather wasn’t the exception in MLB – He’s the rule

Kevin Mather had to go, of course. But his resignation doesn’t really change how awful the sport of baseball has become.

Mather was, until today, the president and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, the only major league franchise never to have played in a World Series. Founded in 1977, the Mariners have somehow avoided making the championship series for 44 years and haven’t even made the playoffs since 2001, which is actually pretty difficult to do considering how many teams get to play in the postseason these days.

Unless you’re intentionally trying not to be competitive, that is. Which it appears the Mariners were – and probably still are – doing. Don’t take my word for it… take Mather’s:

  • If the Mariners had needed players in 2020 due to COVID, “there was no chance you were going to see” top prospects Jerred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, and others “at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to start the service-time clock… You might have seen my big tummy out there in left field” instead.
  • Talking about prospect Julio Rodriguez, Mather admitted the team had no plans to let him make the major league squad this year, extending the team’s control over him an additional year: “Everybody says he’ll be here in 2021. He won’t be here ’til 2022 or 2023.” Service-time manipulation by major league teams is one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport, so give Mather credit for being so up front about how being uncompetitive is part of the plan.
  • Mather also decided to go down the xenophobia trail, commenting that former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma’s English “suddenly got better when we told him” that Mather was “tired of paying his interpreter.” And this shot at the aforementioned Rodriguez, who speaks English quite well, thank you: “[He has] a personality bigger than all of you combined… He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”
  • He also called veteran third baseman Kyle Seager “overpaid” and said it would be Seager’s last year in Seattle, which seems to indicate (well ahead of time) that the team has no interest in his 2022 option year. Seager has been one of the team’s few dependable players over the past decade.

Which local chapter of QAnon or the John Birch Society was Mather addressing with these comments? Surely this must have been a secret meeting among close friends that Mather was confident wouldn’t leak a video of his idiot remarks, right? Nope. It was the monthly meeting of the Bellevue, WA Rotary Club.

Beyond the compelling evidence that the way the Mariners have been running their operations is broken – and they’re hardly the only team that runs their business this way – I’m stunned by the sheer arrogance on display here. Was Mather trying to be funny? Trying to ingratiate himself with some local town leaders? Did he think they’d actually agree with his methods?

He apologized last night, saying his remarks didn’t reflect the actual positions of the team, but since he was the president and CEO, actually they were. But not any more, since as I noted, he resigned today.

The Mariners’ level of futility approaches that of the Detroit Lions, except that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and league rules mostly even out team revenues league-wide so no one’s at a competitive disadvantage financially and therefore every team has an incentive to try to win. MLB doesn’t work that way, so the smaller market teams have decisions to make that often are in opposition to trying to put a winning team on the field each season (the Padres’ recent contract extensions and free-agent signings to the contrary).

People like Kevin Mather certainly make it difficult to care about their product. The fact that baseball is considered a “product” in the first place was probably a warning sign in itself.