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Mariners CEO Kevin Mather resigns after a disastrous video call becomes public

There are many important stories in Mather’s remarks, but writers’ and fans’ opinions on individual players’ ability to speak English are not one of them.

Kevin Mather applauds remarks from Lou Pineilla in August 2014
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Late Saturday night video surfaced of Mariners CEO Kevin Mather delivering remarks to a Seattle-area Rotary Club on February 5. I wish I could say the content was shocking, but it isn’t. As much as we would all love to believe that no MLB team owners or executives believe the things Mather casually admitted to in the 46-minute discussion, I think we all know more of them harbor some of these thoughts than we’d like to admit — they just also have the presence of mind to not say the quiet parts out loud.

Predictably, the original video has pulled, but our friends at the SB Nation Mariners blog Lookout Landing found another upload of it and handily transcribed the entire conversation in case you are the reading type.

I could take this article in any number of directions. Mather’s comments included but were not limited to:

  • Being embarrassed Spring Training is starting despite COVID restrictions.
  • Being embarrassed the owners couldn’t strongarm the players’ union into a 154-game season.
  • Mariners fan favorite Kyle Seager is unlikely to be re-signed, and Mather believes he’s overpaid — which led Seager’s wife to tweet:
  • Mather believes they traded for a catcher named Luis Torres. He referred to “Torres” four times. The player they traded for is actually Luis Torrens.
  • He bragged about getting top prospect Evan White to sign a multi-year team-friendly $24 million deal that many of the Mariners’ own players thought was a bad deal for White and how much cheaper that is than free agency. I’m sure that endeared all of these players to the Mariners front office.
  • Mather wasn’t supposed to mention the Commissioner talking to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, but...well, he mentioned the Commissioner talking to Dr. Fauci.
  • I’ll let Mather get himself in trouble on how the free agency calendar has been pushed back in recent years: “180 free agents still out there on February 5 unsigned, and sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over and come with hat in hand, looking for a contract.”
  • Mather described the (at the time) active contract conversations the Mariners were having with James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
  • Mather worried about the safety of Mariners employees who have to park further away because ballpark parking is too pricey closer to the park.
  • He let slip that he believes there will be an electronic strike zone within two years. (As an aside, extend Willson Contreras right now.)
  • Mather on contracting the Minor Leagues: “One of the reasons we reduced the number of minor league teams is that we’d have a 40-round draft simply to staff a roster. The days of finding a fireballer from, you know, Bumbleduck, North Dakota, in the 39th round, and he turns out to be Cy Young, those days are over.”

You all know that very few things get me more riled up than owners talking about player contracts publicly in a way that could impact free agency and collective bargaining. I am sure there will be additional fallout from this interview that will impact next year’s CBA negotiations, but to my eye by far the most disturbing comments from Mather came about his international players, their ability to speak English and their (obviously valid) need of translators who make gasp $75,000 a year.

Let me be really clear here, that is the story. Kevin Mather made culturally insensitive remarks about a number of the Mariners’ best prospects and stars because he would like their English to be better. It is an untenable position for any owner and leader of a baseball team in the modern era. It is asinine for the owner of a franchise that counts Ichiro Suzuki and Félix Hernández among the team’s most impactful stars.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Mather resigned as a result of his comments in the video:

Mather’s resignation is a welcome development but it is not the end of the story, because it seems like dozens of MLB writers are tripping over themselves to “well actually” certain players’ ability to speak English with or without a translator. There are like two dozen stories in Mather’s interview, whether a certain prospect can speak English satisfactorily is not one of them.

But last night, for reasons I will be happy to guess at in a few minutes, baseball Twitter devolved into conversations about how one time writer X talked to prospect Y and that prospects English was just fine.

You, sirs (let’s be honest, they are almost all sirs), have missed the point.

When I coached debate I was always amazed at how students frequently managed to avoid the main point in order to combat some small detail that was much easier to answer. It is human nature to want to focus on the easy parts rather than call out and question the hard parts. These students would wind up losing rounds because they bought into a problematic framing in order to refute some tiny detail, and in doing that they perpetuated the framing that was the main issue in the first place.

Stories that focus on whether or not a player’s language skills are up to par for the writer perpetuate the idea that English proficiency is somehow relevant to playing Major League Baseball in the United States of America. It is not. There is no official language in the United States and MLB has a decades-long relationship with international talent. Translators have made life better for hundreds of MLB players. Please tell me I don’t need to remind readers of this blog how Roberto Clemente was treated by writers due to his accent.

Mather’s remarks revealed that horrible history is alive and well in at least one Major League front office. That is appalling and a surefire way for MLB to alienate some of its most talented players. But the problems extend beyond front offices. Mather no longer has a job, but the way writers and fans talk about these issues matter. Unfortunately, it is apparently a lot harder for some writers to look the legacy of racism in baseball straight in the face so they’d rather tell you they think a certain player’s English is just fine.