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'The culture has shifted': Mariners GM, manager focus on regaining players' trust after CEO's controversial comments

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 3 days ago Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
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PEORIA, Ariz. — Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais walked around the clubhouse Tuesday before their first full-squad workout, saw the hurt and anger from their players.

They didn’t try to subdue the players’ feelings, or corral their emotions, but simply listened, trying to explain that the sentiments shared by their former CEO, Kevin Mather, was one man’s opinion, and not remotely shared by the organization.

Still, this wasn’t just some renegade employee. This was the leader of the Seattle organization callously belittling the Mariners’ players, mocking the foreign players for their English skills, skewering those who didn’t succumb to their grossly club-friendly long-term contracts, and threatening those who don’t cave into their proposals to extended stays in the minor leagues.

a man looking at the camera: Kevin Mather in 2018. © Ted S. Warren, AP Kevin Mather in 2018.

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Dipoto and Servais addressed the entire team in the outfield before their workout, with Dipoto profusely apologizing, telling the players this was simply one man’s misguided views, and that it was a slap in the face to the organization’s values.

“I think it’s something that we all feel embarrassed,’’ said Mariners opening-day starter Marco Gonzales, who Mather called a boring pitcher because he doesn’t light up the radar gun. “But we all feel that it doesn’t reflect our culture. It doesn’t reflect the character of this team. …

“Certainly the relevance that he has to this team is that he’s not close to us. He's not here throwing a ball. He’s not here swinging a bat. So although his words were hurtful, and personal, but I think we're a lot stronger than that.’’

Mather is now gone. They called it a resignation. It was a firing. He had zero chance of returning.

His remarks aren’t about to disappear as quickly as his office is cleared out.

Mather’s 45-minute question-and-answer video to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club will leave a stain that may take years for the Mariners’ organization to wipe clean.

“I'm embarrassed that this is the way we're viewed,’’ Dipoto said Tuesday morning from the Mariners complex. “It’s embarrassing to be categorized or to deal with the stigma that we are now playing with. We have to show that it's ours to bear, and we now have to be accountable to that, and then find a way to grow beyond that.

“This is a single person's interpretation, and his comments were hurtful or insulting to a lot of people. I made sure that our players knew that wasn’t the way we see it. This is not what our what our club is about. It's not how we operate. And it's not how we want to be viewed.

“Unfortunately, now we are, and we have to live with that, and to show by our actions that’s not who we are.’’

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Dipoto already was spewing out reasons to keep prized outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic in the minors once the season started, just as Mather vowed to the rotary club. He has played only 21 games above Class A. He still needs to develop. It’ll be strictly a baseball decision made in his best interest.

Yet, of course, as Mather conveyed loud and clear, it’s a financial decision. If he had accepted their six-year contract with three option years almost two years ago, he would be guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster. It’s the message you can be assured that the Major League Baseball Players Association will be reminding their players all spring, and an integral part of their exhibit when they begin labor negotiations with MLB in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement talks.

“I'm not sure how you construe a service time manipulation with a 21-year old player who's played (21) games above A-ball,’’ Dipoto says, “and who not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player. That would be an unprecedented that hasn’t happened in three decades. While Jared is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure that he has checked off the boxes in development because it's incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners, but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic.’’

Dipoto may be sincere, but not a soul is going to believe it if Kelenic has a strong spring and is still sent down to the minors, with a grievance from the players union sure to follow.

The Mariners are going to be closely scrutinized how they handle their foreign players, making sure they are comfortable, with paid interpreters ready to assist, and not mocked for their command of the English language.

This is an organization who raised Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who brought future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki to Major League Baseball, who nurtured Felix Hernandez into an ace, but now all of that is forgotten.

The disgraceful legacy of Mather, along with 20 years of organizational ineptitude – enduring the longest streak of a major North American sports franchise without a playoff berth – is now the image they must shed.

The Mariners don’t even have 28 days before making amends with their players, their organization, their fanbase, and the entire Northwest.

“They should be frustrated, they should be a little raw,’’ Dipoto said. “We told them that. And if you need to vent, we're here. We have generally built an environment where we urge, 'Don't blame, don't complain, just go out and focus on playing.’

“And right now we have to allow them the room to be angry, as they should, and hopefully we're able to get through it pretty quickly and move on.’’

Servais, embarking on his sixth year as manager, realizes the sudden boulders of distrust thrown in their path to respectability. The Mariners have had only two winning seasons since his arrival with Dipoto. They are widely projected to finish last in the AL West this year. Even Mather told the rotary club they weren’t going to be competitive this year.

Yet, if they are ever going to see an end to this perpetual rebuild, Servais and Dipoto need to quickly regain the trust of their players, show that they’re not mere statistics on a spread sheet, and prove they are genuinely are in this together to energize this once proud franchise.

“For me, personally,’’ Servais said, “I was very angry. I was embarrassed. And I’m frustrated because I know how hard we are working as a group to create a culture that we’re proud of.

“I've talked to a number of players. I want them to voice their frustrations, to talk it out. I will say I'm very grateful on how our guys have handled this. It stings. But I think they’ll get over this because actions speak louder than words. …

“The culture has shifted here. We talk about character, and what adversity does. Adversity doesn’t built character. It reveals it.’’

The Mariners sure are about to find out.

“It’s a little bit of a gut punch,’’ Gonzales said, “but something that we can move forward from. … Although we have our differences between the players and the front office, we want to move forward as a group. The positive is that we've built a really solid culture here.

“Sometimes a common goal can unite you, but sometimes a common enemy can be even greater.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The culture has shifted': Mariners GM, manager focus on regaining players' trust after CEO's controversial comments

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