OPINION: Kevin Mather’s Resignation Doesn’t Resolve the Widespread Exploitation of MLB Players for Money

Photo Credit: Jose Francisco Morales via Unsplash

It was a doozy of a day on Feb. 21 when a 46-minute interview between the Bellevue Rotary and Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather went viral in the baseball community, bringing to light many harmful sentiments. The current good news is that he was quickly dismissed, but I worry that the ideas he spoke into existence are commonplace among the MLB owners, and sports owners as a whole.

The most damning of this is obviously the casual racism. On several occasions, Mather judged players primarily on their ability to speak English. He told Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, one of the best pitchers Seattle had over his tenure with the team, that he was tired of paying his interpreter, even remarking that his English was terrible and that “his English got better when we told him that.” Of star prospect Julio Rodriguez, Mather said, “He is loud, his English is not tremendous” despite multiple Mariners praising him on it. He chirped about Latin players in general, saying they wouldn’t know how to make change or buy dinner.

In comments more specific to baseball, he commented on how star prospect Jarred Kelenic turned down a long-term contract with the Mariners, essentially betting on himself. Mather admitted straight up that Kelenic would be in the minor leagues until mid-April of this year. This ensures that the Mariners retain control of Kelenic’s talent for another year without having to pay him.

Mariner fans themselves should be livid as Mather rattled off personal attacks toward individual players. Marco Gonzales, the best pitcher on the Mariner roster as of this moment, was called “very boring” and was accused of pushing a former teammate into a locker because he disrespected the rules. A source told ESPN that this was false. Mather had no issue talking about Mitch Haniger complaining about where he stood in the outfield-heavy set of prospects set to debut in the next year or two. ESPN again reported that this was false. Mather even went so far as to declare that longtime Mariner Kyle Seager will not be with the team in 2022 because he is overpaid.

This doesn’t even cover it all. With a smile on his face and in full candor, Mather had no issue talking down the team he presided over. The most positive comments he had about the team were that they did better financially than most teams in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. While Mather resigned after the fact, it doesn’t matter. The comfort with which he trashed his team almost certainly means that this is a sentiment held by other owners. Of course, the contract of manipulation, while a problem, has always been widely known. The only real shock there is that he would admit to it immediately.

The racism is another issue. Bigotry is a widespread issue in sports. The NFL even tweeted a statement condemning hate against the Asian communities on Feb. 24. NBA star Carmelo Anthony famously lashed out at Jeremy Lin for wearing his hair a certain way because he supposedly “wants to be black.” Thom Brennaman, a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, was taken off air after a hot mic captured him dropping an anti-LGBTQ slur on broadcast.

This is going to be absolutely brutal for Mariner fans. The repercussions are already coming their way. Seager has voiced displeasure on social media over it, Kelenic has, Rodriguez has, James Paxton has, even manager Scott Servais had issues with it. Others took to defending their teammates. Austin Shenton praised Rodriguez’s English and Sam Tuivailala praised Seager’s leadership. The MLB Players Association is going to have a field day with the grievances that some of the prospects can file thanks to the contract manipulation.

The thing is that although this is devastating for Mariner fans, all 30 executives would have given the same answers because it’s likely that’s what they all think. If there was any doubt that the owners only cared about money, let it be gone. This video was in circulation for almost three weeks before some fan shared it and got him off the team. Would he even have been fired if he didn’t resign? The Seattle Mariners and their fans are the most directly impacted, but hopefully this does inspire change within the MLBPA to look out for themselves before giving in to the demands of the brass.