Mariners president apologizes for trashing players' English skills, salary in viral comments

Liz Roscher

Seattle Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather issued an apology Sunday night after a video surfaced on YouTube of controversial remarks he made to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club on February 5.

During the video conference with the club, which lasted over 45 minutes and included a question and answer portion, Mather made racist remarks criticizing his own players' English skills, called a player overpaid, got the name of one of the team's prospects wrong, trashed the facilities of their own Class-A affiliate, and admitted to manipulating the service time of the team's prospects. And that's not even a full list of Mather's transgressions during his remarks.

Mather shoved his own foot in his mouth, then his other foot, and then the feet of five other people. He said things that no baseball executive ever wants to get caught saying, and the apology he released Sunday night reflected just how badly he'd messed up.

So what exactly did Mather say? Mariners blog Lookout Landing has the full transcript and video, but here are the main points of controversy.

Criticizing players' English skills

When Mather was asked about how the Mariners are helping foreign-born players learn English, he criticized Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who played for Seattle for six seasons and was recently hired to be a special assignment coach for them.

For instance, we just re-hired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible. 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!

When Mather was asked about top prospect Julio Rodriguez, he mentioned his command of English almost immediately.

Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud, his English is not tremendous.

Rodriguez, who is 20, has been taking English classes with the Mariners since he was 17. He did his first all-English interview with The Athletic in 2018. In that story, the Athletic reported that Rodriguez was so proud of that accomplishment he immediately called his parents to tell them.

Rodriguez didn't appear to appreciate Mather's comments about him.

Trashing his own players

Mather got the name of the team's "fantastic catcher," Luis Torrens, wrong three times, calling him "Luis Torres." But that pales in comparison to what he said about Kyle Seager, the third baseman who has been with the Mariners for over a decade.

While complimenting Seager's veteran clubhouse presence, he called him "overpaid."

And I have to compliment Kyle Seager, [he] is a veteran player. He’s probably overpaid, but his attitude, and this has been a tough couple of years where we traded veterans and came in with young kids who are learning, and Kyle Seager has stayed positive and has had a tremendous attitude.

Mather also said that 2021 is "probably his last season as a Mariner," implying that the team won't be picking up their option on him in 2022. That was probably news to Seager, but it was certainly news to his wife, Julie.

Service time manipulation

Mather's comments about service time have raised more than a few eyebrows. It's illegal for a team to hold a prospect down in the minors for any reason not related to his level of play, which means there should be no set dates for any player to be moved promoted to the majors. It's extremely difficult to definitively prove that a team has manipulated a player's service time, even though it may seem obvious that a team has done it.

It's a lot easier to prove that a team has manipulated a player's service time when the team president comes right out and says it. In his remarks, Mather admitted that the Mariners didn't promote their prospects in 2020 because of the pandemic-shortened schedule, and not because of their level of play.

As devastating as 2020 was on player development and getting better, we took a risk and brought our high-end prospects in, really got to know them, they got high-end instruction in Tacoma. The risk was, if our major league team had had a COVID outbreak, or injuries, and we had to call people up from the taxi squad, we were a little short on players. Because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster, we weren’t going to start the service time clock. There were all kinds of reasons that, if we had an injury problem or COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our prospects playing in T-Mobile Park.

What happens to Mather now?

Mather, who was accused of sexual harassment in 2018 and "appropriately punished" by an outside investigator, has really stepped in it. He also made controversial comments about the MLB Players Association, future negotiations with the union, the neighborhood around T-Mobile Park, and the Mariners' financial standing during the pandemic.

His apology — and the day of "I'm sorry" phone calls he claimed to have made — is a good start, but he's done serious damage to the team in the media, with the MLBPA, and with its own players. Mather has been with the Mariners since 1996, but it's possible that his viral comments could force his time with the team to come to an end.

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 06:  Seattle Mariners President & Chief Operating Officer Kevin Mather speaks to the crowd during a jersey retirement ceremony honoring Ken Griffey Jr. prior to the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field on August 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Seattle Mariners President & Chief Operating Officer Kevin Mather is in hot water after comments he made to a local rotary club went viral. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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