With less than a year to go until Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires, opening what are likely to be contentious negotiations that could threaten labor peace and the 2022 season, major league players now have a villain to whom they can tether some of their grievances.
During a talk with a Seattle-area Rotary club earlier this month, Seattle Mariners CEO Kevin Mather word vomited what could be viewed as circumstantial evidence of service-time manipulation — long a complaint from the players’ union — veiled racism and straight up disrespect of the team’s own players and one of their long-term contracts. All of it is ugly, ignorant and gives the union firepower as they go into the next CBA.
Basically, it appears Mather was saying all the quiet parts — ones that players and union long suspected were present — out loud for all to hear. The fact that he thought he was speaking in a somewhat private setting is not an excuse. In some respects, it makes his comments worse.
Mather apologized Sunday night after video of them appeared online. And on Monday afternoon, Mather a dhreuchd a leigeil dheth from his position.
Here is a quick recap of some of what Mather said:
- About the team’s prized outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, Mather said the team had offered him a six-year deal with three club options that Kelenic turned down. Because of that, Mather said, he won’t be with the Mariners to start this season. Instead, he’ll come up in April, that way the team can ensure an extra year of service-time control. This time-clock manipulation has been a big sticking point for the union. Plus there’s the added bonus of Mather making is sound like Kelenic is being punished for turning down the contract offer.
- He bagged on Hisashi Iwakuma, a former Mariner pitcher and current coach, for his inability to speak English, and for having to pay for a translator while he was on the roster. Every MLB club hires translators for players and coaches who might need them, or who might feel more comfortable giving nationally televised interviews in their native language.
- He disrespected prospect Julio Rodriguez, saying he is “loud” — sometimes used as a racist trope for Latino people — and that “his English is not tremendous” despite the Mariners a ’postadh bhidio of Rodriguez speaking English, which is pretty good, two years ago. Rodriguez was 18 at the time and had never been outside the Dominican Republic until the Mariners brought him to the U.S.
- Then there is what Mather said about Kyle Seager, the team’s best player since he debuted in 2011. Seager is under a seven-year, $100 million contract, an under-market deal considering his production in that time. Yet, Mather calls him “overpaid.”
There is more to be offended by — not to mention being offended by Mather’s prior behavior — but those are the broad strokes of his call with the Rotary club.
It doesn’t matter that Mather is now gone from the organization. His comments as a member of it paint him as a poster boy for what the players’ union claims are many of the problems with how baseball’s economic system works and the disconnect between players and the people who pay their salaries.
It’s good that Mather is gone from his perch. But the ammunition he’s provided the union won’t disappear with him, because it gives confirmation to what was already believed to be happening behind closed doors in front and ownership offices.
“The Club’s video presentation is a highly disturbing yet critically important window into how Players are genuinely viewed by management,” the union’s statement says. “Not just because of what was said, but also because it represents an unfiltered look into Club thinking.”
The residue of Mather’s statements won’t be washed away by December when the CBA expires. Instead it will probably be highlighted as a real-world example of how the owners negotiate in bad faith and why public sentiment should side with the players.
It’s a strong message that any communications professional would use. And it was provided directly from the opposing side’s mouth.