BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 02/24/2021

Thiel: Mariners need more than Stanton for a fix

Kevin Mather is gone, but no one can be sure the problem is gone with him. If majority owner John Stanton was as surprised as Mariners fans, what does that say about him?

John Stanton either did know well Kevin Mather, or didn’t. Neither is a good answer./ Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Where would the Mariners be this week if chairman John Stanton had fired Kevin Mather in 2018?  That’s when it became publicly known the club was sued by three female employees, two of whom accused the club president of sexual harassment, and accepted financial settlements.

The players would be at Arizona spring training playing and talking ball, not hearing things like this from staff ace Marco Gonzales:

“Sometimes a common goal can guide (a team),” he said Tuesday. “Sometimes a common enemy can do the same, if not greater. I think that’s the boat we’re in right now.”

Or this from manager Scott Servais:

“I got to say I was very angry. I was embarrassed. And I’m frustrated, and I’m frustrated because I know how hard we are working as a group.”

Or this from general manager Jerry Dipoto, about holding a team meeting to apologize to players and “frankly to address the stigma that’s now associated with our team, which I don’t think is the way we see ourselves.”

The way many people, inside of baseball and outside, see the Mariners is as a hapless loser of an organization with a toxic culture that indulges a senior executive like Mather, who blithely belittles a dozen of the company’s only sources of revenue; uses racial dog-whistles; discloses an industry custom that is a restraint of labor; brags up a financial truth the club never wants disclosed, and claims the beleaguered city government, crushed by a pandemic, racial unrest and police-funding cutbacks, should “do something” about the ballpark’s neighborhood that he says is dangerous.

Among other deleterious topics.

Here’s two hypothetical questions: What if season-ticket holder Eric Hess had not discovered and posted the video of Mather’s Feb. 5 talk with the Bellevue Rotary that exposed him? How long would the infection from “the common enemy” have been allowed to spread in the franchise to an even worse outcome?

We can’t know those answers. We can learn of the rot that causes them to be asked.

I say “we” because even though sports franchises are privately owned, they are civic institutions subsidized by all of us taxpayers. Done right, they are immense sources of community pride and passion that are needed more than ever in a time of national bleakness and division.

Instead of pride and passion this spring, the Mariners have a third public scandal under Stanton’s watch that involves claims of badgered employees, including the complaints from Dr. Lorena Martin.

The former high-performance director proudly hired by Dipoto in October 2017 lasted a year before being put on leave, then fired. She sued, claiming discrimination. Only this week did we learn via the Seattle Times that her claim was “resolved” via a private arbitration agreement. No details were provided.

It’s resolved between the parties. But it isn’t resolved in the public mind.

Especially now that there’s reason to speculate that Mather might have been running a good ol’ boys shop. The Mariners claim an MLB investigation said Martin had no case. You’ll pardon me if I think that’s like the FAA asking Boeing to do the final inspection on a plane it just built.

I trust neither the Mariners nor MLB to provide honest answers as to how a guy with Mather’s views held such power. Nor do I trust Stanton, the majority owner and now temporarily the president and CEO, to lead an examination that may need to discover whether he’s part of the problem. With the possible exception of throwing large coin at team-building genius Theo Epstein, Stanton can’t lead a search for Mather’s successor, given that he either a) didn’t know who Mather was or b) did know who Mather was.

The Mariners need to hire an outside party with no dog in the hunt to independently investigate and understand how Mather was allowed to climb for 25 years to reach the top, and who abetted him. The fall, we know.

Public goodwill is so eroded in the club on multiple levels — I fully expect that NASA’s Perseverance rover will find Martian microbes that know the Mariners have been absent from the playoffs longer than any team in the top four North American pro team sports — that I would think many, if not most, beleaguered club employees, sickened by the fiascoes, would welcome transparency and a plan for a path forward.

I called a veteran public relations executive to ask what is possible, and agreed to anonymity for candor.

“They have to do things that they haven’t done in two decades-plus,” the person said.
“They need to go deeper. If that was (Mather’s) thinking, who else thinks like this within the organization?

“Trust is blown in the community. They have a steep hill to climb out of in the short term, but also long term.”

That short term includes convincing two young superstars in the bud, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, both disparaged by Mather, that the organization is a good one, in ways more persuasive than merely saying so.

Dipoto seemed to understand the peril of the moment. While Kelenic and Rodriguez haven’t even played a major league game yet and have no contract leverage, if Dipoto’s step-back plan works, it won’t be too long before he needs to hire veteran talent to surround the phenoms.

Vets with choices likely will avoid a place that may look from the outside as if it’s one space laser short of Crazytown.

“Many of (Seattle’s top prospects) were brought up in our minor league system that stresses community, truth-telling and doing the right thing,” he said. “And they watched a circumstance where we as an organization didn’t do the right thing. And we have to be accountable to them.”

Even through Zoom Tuesday, the discomfort among Dipoto, Servais and Gonzales was palpable. They so want this to go away.

“Some of those words were hurtful personally,” Gonzales said. “But he’s not close to us. He’s not here throwing the ball. He’s not here swinging.”

The common enemy is gone. But no one can say for sure if the problem left with him.


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YourThoughts

  • Mister Tacoma

    The ownership of this team just seems like they want to provide a product for folks that gives them something to do in the summer. That’s pretty much it. People don’t go see the Mariners anymore. They go see Toronto and Boston play the Mariners.
    It’s the fans that get played. I’m fortunate enough to go see the Rainiers where the expectations are just watching baseball, eating junk food and not going broke doing it.

    • Ed Norton

      This is exactly my take on the Mariners. The goal of front office top management and ownership is to make money each year and increase the value of the franchise. This is no surprise and is not necessarily bad. It is bad when it is the only goal. After reading Stanton’s press conference after Mather resigned, it struck me that Stanton is not the answer to the Mariners problems either. His responses to pointed questions were all evasive. He did not give any sense that things are going to change.

      Like you, I have shifted my baseball dollars to the Rainiers. Ticket prices are very reasonable, the stadium seating is much more intimate, and good young players like Kelenic and Rodriguez will be on display while the Mariners manipulate their service time.

    • art thiel

      The lamentation is a familiar one for many Mariners fans. It’s the price of a teardown. Many go for a summer night outdoors. However, should they ever win again, even jaded ones like you.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Very well written. I appreciate and agree with the sentiments but it’s the style and quality of the writing that so often puts a smile upon a face. Good job! At some point in the 80’s, Art, you mentioned something like ‘bringing in a Mariners reliever is like pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out’. I hope the same thing will not be said for the new Mariners president. ‘Martian microbes and Mariners’ is likely a unique association, by the way, in the annals of world literature.

    • art thiel

      Glad you appreciate a little crafting. I know it’s a bit out of style. But I don’t care.

  • Alan Harrison

    If the Tylenol people taught us one thing, it’s to clear the shelves in order to secure trust. However, there are more cases such as the Morton-Thiokol O-Ring disaster for the Challenger, where the “full-speed-ahead-no-matter-what” contingent almost lost the US its space program entirely. Or Boeing and its 737-Max problems (and now its 777, 767, and 757 problems). Or any number of failed responses that were all about saving face when the face has already been damaged. Stanton’s remarks fall into the latter category. Is there someone out there who can fire everyone and hire excellent people (not just seasoned, experienced people, but excellent ones not in “the club”) in their places? Hard to imagine, but we can dream.

    • 1coolguy

      777? It’s a Pratt and Whitney engine that failed, not the plane. United via possible miss on inspections and P&W are the guilty parties here, not a 20 year+ Boeing plane. If anything, that it flew safely on one engine should be lauded.

      • LarryLurex70

        Correct. The P&W’s have largely been phased out and replaced by GE.

        • art thiel

          Well, it’s a Boeing town, so I should have expected these responses to a Boeing analogy.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        Please instantly self-educate on the part of the cowls and/or containment belt that did NOT restrain various parts. Specifically, the non-engine parts that got punched. Mother Bee owns the cowls and other structure.
        It isn’t that hard to find.

    • art thiel

      Good point about having no face to save. I’m sure there’s someone who can make a difference, but they would probably want a share of ownership in order to be bulletproofed from the consequences of forcing people to do things differently. Tod Leiweke already has that gig over at the Krakhouse.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Seeing as how this franchise has been run so poorly mismanaged for so long. And that the franchise is pretty much in disfavor by so many people. Such as the fans, MLB, the players union, the players, the owners and don’t forget the King county and Seattle officials. It’s impossible to know what’s going through Stantons mind because he’s about as accessible as the Great Wizard of Oz. And it’s going to take an enormous amount of skill and time to put forth an effort to honestly right the ship and repair so many burned bridges. Might this be a bridge to far to undo what’s been done?

    Is it possible that there could there be a covert effort by the other baseball owners or other pressures from outside influences to persuade Stanton to either step down or sell the team? Drastic times call for drastic measures. At this point a vast majority of people are not going to believe anything that comes out of the mouths of the Mariner elite. What adds insult to injury is that the so called step back or reimagined team is going to take a shot to the family jewels. Dipoto sold this to the owners and the fan base. Could his future with the M’s and baseball for that matter be hanging in the balance with these turn of events?

    Now that the new kids on the block are fully aware of what the franchise’s real intentions were all along. Will the team take a different approach as to getting them into the lineup on opening day or keep them in the minors for the service time issue? The players union I would imagine right about now are sending champagne and flowers to Mather. He just handed them a YUGE bargaining stick to beat the owners over the head with. 2021 might be the last time MLB will be played for awhile. Thanks Kevin.

    • jafabian

      If MLB could tolerate Reds Marge Schott’s racist and anti-Semitic statements there’s no way they’d expunge Stanton. Both he and Mather have been PR disappointments but aren’t anywhere near that. Other teams would just release a statement apologizing for Mather’s statements and say that he had too many cocktails at lunch. The M’s are like Andra Agassi and believe image is everything. They don’t even let fans put up banners at the ballpark that say “Yankees suck” because it has negative connotations. Dipoto is only baseball operation so he’s isolated from all this.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Marge Scott’s reign of terror ended in 1999, that’s 22 years ago. Wouldn’t one think that in today’s climate of diversity and non tolerance of bigotry and misogyny that those in higher positions in baseball would be less tolerant on those types of behaviors that occurred two decades ago? Maybe, maybe not. I was just posing the question of the possibility that things might develop behind closed doors that might make it unattainable for the current M’s ownership to remain virtually silent and continue to operate like nothing has happened.

        And it’s more than just about the Mather fiasco, the team is just a poorly run franchise. If this tear down doesn’t work, then what?

        Stanton was complicit in Mather’s behavior which allowed him to run rampant in the organization. By doing that, Mather went rogue and pulled back the curtain for all to see how baseball operates as it has for decades.
        One would have to imagine that the other owners had to have been appalled when Mather let that cat out of the bag. Of course the players union must be dancing in the streets regarding the service time issue.

        As far as Dipoto goes, you’re right he’s baseball operations. But one would have to be extremely naive to think he wasn’t aware of what was going on. I was just saying that he has to be incredibly pissed that he’s having to be the one to put out the fires with the players that he didn’t start. He’s bet his credibility on this tear down. What’s he going to say to Kelenic and Gilbert, you know the future of the Mariners success? Hey fellas Mather was just goofing around when he said that the organization was purposely manipulating your service time to benefit the teams control over your future? It’s time for new blood at the top, but that’s highly unlikely.

        • art thiel

          The 43 years speak for themselves. Then to layer it with the Mather fiasco that impacts owners and the union, as well delivering a blow to the industry effort to shed its good ol’ boy history, you have, as Dan Jenkins might have written, a genuine pisser-offer.

      • art thiel

        Dipoto has the Lorena Martin issue on his watch, even though he was not found publicly guilty of wrongdoing. There’s little doubt it was a mismanaged hire.

        Schott was indeed forced to sell.

    • art thiel

      Lots of good questions here. I don’t think a forced sale is in the offing, although it’s been done with Marge Schott and Donald Sterling. More likely is that some minority owners will seek to sell their shares and be done with the futility.

      The current situation has to be fixed publicly and aggressively, which is why I wrote that outsiders need to be summoned. Stanton has lost his cred regarding doing the right thing.

  • woofer

    “…Stanton can’t lead a search for Mather’s successor, given that he either a) didn’t know who Mather was or b) did know who Mather was.

    “The Mariners need to hire an outside party with no dog in the hunt to independently investigate and understand how Mather was allowed to climb for 25 years to reach the top, and who abetted him. The fall, we know.”

    Ya know, that’s a nice idea but not likely to happen. What could happen is that Stanton could take a surprise visit to the front office digs, take an look around, and discover that the only dude on the premises who knows squat about baseball is Dipoto — who, as it turns out, is in the middle of a major farm system based rebuild. For better or worse, the M’s are committed to Dipoto’s plan.

    Being a rich guy and all that, John Stanton is probably smart enough to ask Dipoto to give him a list of 3 to 5 good qualified MLB middle tier administrators who could both handle the job and with whom Dipoto could work comfortably. Stanton hires a headhunter outfit to research and interview the candidates and, on the basis of that and Dipoto’s further input, makes his choice. That seems manageable.

    It appears that all big time Seattle franchises eventually have to get bailed out by rich civic do-gooders who know next to nothing about the sport involved. But only one of them, Paul Allen, passed Socrates’ test for wisdom: Allen knew nothing about football and he knew that he knew nothing. So he went out and hired the right people to run the show.

    While the great Howard Schultz seemed to imagine that he understood NBA basketball, John Stanton falls more into the clueless category. People assumed he was baseball smart only because they couldn’t imagine him being as dumb as his predecessor. Not so. More of the same bland country club empty-headedness. So somebody just belly up to the bar and tell Stanton to have Dipoto give him a list. He can probably handle that.

    • jafabian

      If the M’s board need for Dipoto to find his boss they might as well look at him being a candidate. At least Jerry has been color blind in his player assessments. Though there were only 80 Black players on MLB rosters for opening day in 2020 ( With the Royals, Rays and D-Backs fielding none.) the M’s had 10. Baseball operations and corporate operations are typically separate from one another with the team president bridging the two. Which for the M’s is a part of the problem here.

      • art thiel

        I doubt Dipoto is going to get much of a say. The board is smart enough not to let the person in the most pressurized position pick his boss.

    • Husky73

      Plan A: Call Theo, offer him the moon and see what he says. Plan B: If he’s a yes, organize a welcoming party and order 2026 World Series tickets; if he’s a no, proceed to Plan C. Plan C: I got nuthin’.

      • art thiel

        Thanks for the road map. Good as any.

    • art thiel

      I’m reluctant to connect any dots between owners of teams in different sports and eras and make blanket conclusions about rich do-gooders. Certainly, lessons can be learned, but what is happening at the top of the M’s org is less about baseball and more about bad workplace management for an intensely scrutinized platform.

      Few owners transition well from their fields to the retail nature of top-tier team sports. Besides, they join monopoly operations that are hobbies and almost idiot-proof in terms of increasing in equity value.

  • 1coolguy

    Mather was/is a total idiot, and just because he’s rich as shix doesn’t mean Stanton has much upstairs.
    But hey, as this is Seattle, they should clean house and replace all the White guys with Black guys and problem solved, right? I’m sure most, including Sawant, Jayapal, and their ilk would agree. Problem solved, and very PC.

    • Husky73

      Once down the Q rabbit hole, all hope is lost.

    • jafabian

      Another racist and bigoted statement. Very un-PC. Says a lot about you.

      • 1coolguy

        I am the KING of “un-PC” as you state. Sad that you are living on that plantation

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          There is a difference between “un-PC” and hogwash. Posting unfacts and simply making up stories or aspects only makes one a b*llsh*tter.

          There is a history of gross unfacts, getting called out on same with facts, then original poster never returning to acknowledge being pantsed. I suspect you think you are a bit of a sealion, but you aren’t good at it. Noise.

    • tor5

      Not sure why you’re going there, given that Sawant and Jayapal don’t have anything to do with this. Or that you think it’s all about race. Unless, at some level, you recognize that race is inevitably baked into such matters in business and sports. It’s a subconscious admission that not even you can pretend it’s not part of it. So, yeah, having a management team that is not exclusively middle-aged white men might indeed help solve the problem. You answered your own question!

    • art thiel

      Well, Trump is available, likes sports, and is experienced at making bad things worse. Please give him a call. I’m sure you have the contact info.

  • jafabian

    Typically a Board of Directors isn’t familiar with the immediate day-to-day operations of the organization they govern. They rely on the president/manager/CEO to keep them up to date via a weekly or monthly meeting. That process has failed the M’s board this past week and it could be said that its failed them since they let Lou and Pat walk.

    When Dr. Lorena Martin was hired Jerry Dipoto was pretty proud of himself. He felt that he was being progressive and inspirational. And it seemed as though the position, new to the M’s culture, was the tonic needed to get the organization on the right track. To see her report major problems and then be terminated came across as same old M’s and worse to see the position never filled. Maybe the responsibilities were spread out among others since their directory lists several high performance staff but they’re all male and no director above them. It sure comes across as though the M’s don’t like that kind of accountability.

    Last year MLB embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed more diversity in their front office hires. But out of 8 openings for president of baseball ops and GM none went to an African American with only one person of color being hired, Kim Ng of the Marlins. All the other positions were filled by white men.

    I said before that I challenge the M’s to go outside their comfort zone. Their history in front office executives is painfully predictable. They rarely go for championship experience, probably for cost reasons. Why pay for Pat Gillick when Bill Bavasi is cheaper? I said before that Red Sox SVP Raquel Ferreira would be an amazing hire. She’s MLB’s highest ranking female executive. Some African American candidates are Michael Hill, who was vice president of baseball operations for the Marlins since 2013 until this winter and has a degree from Harvard, interviewed for the Mets and Phillies. Dejon Watson of the Nationals who has been an assistant GM and part of two championship teams (and inexplicably didn’t get an interview this past winter) and Billy Owens, the assistant GM of the A’s. How can they not interview Billy Beane’s right hand man?

    As the revelation of the weekend sinks in to Mariners employees and fans it’s imperative that they get this right. I really think it’s time for Chris Larson to take over as managing partner as well. Time may heal all wounds but in the meantime the bleeding may require emergency surgery unless steps are taken to stop it.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for sharing your executive search. Good to know.

      I don’t know that Larson is any better at managing a human-heavy enterprise than is Stanton. It just seems that the longtimers in M’s ownership, who shepherded the stadium project, need to realize they need outside help if they seek relevance in contemporary, inclusive pro team sports.

      • jafabian

        I just think that Larson has more passion for the baseball side of the Mariners than any of the other owners based on his baseball collection. So he should be the one to spearhead the M’s operation. As always I am available….unless the Seahawks have a desperate need for me.

  • Kirkland

    As to Stanton asking for Seattle to “do something” about the area around T-Mobile Park, why don’t the Mariners “do something” themselves and offer to help out with proactive actions? If they’re worried about vagrancy, say, why not help endow a halfway-house shelter to give more of them a safe place to stay, and name it something like “Safe at Home”? This is just an example, I know that issue is complicated, but an endeavor in that spirit is a step toward making the city healthier and critically scores goodwill points. The Sounders got good notices through their funding grants for pubs and eateries around Lumens Field who suffered when COVID forced closed-door games. Give it a try.

    As for the M’s as a whole? With no MLB competition within a two-hour flight, they’ve wholly embraced complacency. The only thing that will shake them is Vancouver or, better yet, Portland getting a team.

    • art thiel

      Mather appears oblivious to the virtue in pro sports of being proactive rather than reactive. In this case, things might change if the owners were obliged to do the 10 p.m. walk to their cars north of the stadium.

  • Tman

    The phenoms will be all right. They are old enough to know they are playing for a farm club and will be traded to the Yankees as soon as they are ready.

    • art thiel

      Good to see your reverence for tradition.

  • Will Ganschow

    This issue is not identical to, but shares some similarities to the issue you have been writing so much about, racism and its impact on the professional players who experience it. One reason Mather was around so long, was because like so many he learned how to have his own cherished peculiarities while maintaining an acceptable public persona. If all we ask of each other is to keep our blind spots to ourselves,to hide them out of sight, doesn’t the impact of these continue at least in potential. I wonder if it isn’t somehow possible to provide consequences that at least give perpetrators the opportunity to see the error of there ways, like in Mather’s case couldn’t he be provided a couple thousand hours of working as an office boy at a inner city women’s health clinic, something like that.

    • art thiel

      I don’t want to foreclose on any person’s ability to adapt and change, but Mather seems an unlikely candidate to be awakened by donating boots-on-the-ground time to a non-profit. My guess is he’s still in private shock that anything he said was wrong. That’s why an outside investigator needs to discern what is a one-off with Mather and what is org culture.