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Mariners angry and frustrated, but believe clubhouse culture ‘strong enough to withstand’ turmoil

Scott Servais is entering his sixth season as Mariners manager. (Getty)

There is a lot to unpack from now former Mariners team president Kevin Mather’s Zoom appearance with the Bellevue Rotary Club and what has been said since, but the most pressing concern for the baseball side of the organization is the clubhouse.

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Obviously it is anything but business as usual at the Mariners’ spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz. Tuesday should have been one of the most joyous days on the baseball calendar with the full squad assembling and working out together for the first time since the 2020 season ended.

Traditionally, Mariners manager Scott Servais would address the team with some sort of beginning of the year message, a focus of sorts for what they hoped to accomplish in the season. Instead, the focus is split, as Servais and others understand it has to be.

“Everyone that’s got pride in being a Mariner was hurt by the inaccurate comments that were made,” Servais said about Mather’s Feb. 5 speech that drew attention online Sunday. “For me personally, I was very angry, I was embarrassed and I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because I know how hard we are working as a group, coaches, players, front office, analysts, everybody involved in how hard we are working to create a culture we are proud of. I feel very strong we have done a lot to do that, that’s why the last couple days have been so hurtful.

“I love this team. The character of the group of people we have in our clubhouse, around our team starting with the players, it’s a special group. I see the frustration on their faces and rightly so. That’s what’s been hard to deal with the last couple of days.”

Part of dealing with that has been talking with the players. From phone calls throughout the day Sunday, to meetings with groups on Monday, to catching position players as they came in the door Tuesday, Servais and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto have spent a good amount of time since the video came to light talking with players.

The initial reactions were what they imagined them to be. When asked what he found when making contact with individuals, Servais said, “The temperature was very hot.” Both he and Dipoto have encouraged the players to let it out.

“Be frustrated, share your frustration, be who you are,” Dipoto said, speaking just before Servais on Tuesday morning. “We are very open with our players and urge them to be the same. If they want to be angry, they should be, frankly. They should be insulted but at the same time they are collectively driven toward what we are trying to be as a team.”

“It’s going to sting. It should sting,” Servais said of Mather’s comments. “They are inaccurate.”

Inaccurate and almost all-encompassing. Dipoto indicated he was as stunned as anyone with the sheer number of players Mather disparaged.

“I know there were a number of players that were specifically cited,” Dipoto said, “and then truly entire communities of players that we need to be sensitive to and understand where we are, and frankly to address the stigma that is now associated with our team, which I don’t think is the way we see ourselves and that includes our players.”

It will take time for the Mariners organization to work its way past the ramifications of Mather’s comments. As that is being addressed at a higher level, the job in the clubhouse will be to work their way back toward baseball. Building culture has been a focus for Servais from day 1 and team cultures are not built in a day. His belief is that culture will prove to be able to endure what was said on Feb. 5.

“Our culture is strong enough to withstand all of this,” Servais said. “Our culture has shifted in a very positive way. I’ve made the comment in the past, I believe that average teams are led by managers and coaches. Elite teams are led by the players. Our culture has shifted now where our players are holding each other accountable. The bar has been raised to a certain standard here. I give a ton of credit to our veteran players, the Kyle Seagers of the world, what Marco Gonzales was able to do last year. We saw it developing last year and it hasn’t backed off. Then we add more to the mix with (Tom Murphy) and (Mitch Haniger), (James) Paxton being in the group. You are looking for the J.P. Crawfords, Kyle Lewises and Evan Whites to start speaking up a little more.

“It’s constant. It’s player-driven and that is what excites me as much as anything. It hasn’t always been that way here and it’s not that way on a lot of teams, but the elite teams have it. Culture is player-driven and it is my job to make sure that the players have the platform to do that and it something I enjoy and will continue to do.”

While there is faith in the relationships in the clubhouse, Dipoto realizes that the repairs will have to go well beyond initial conversations.

“Our players understand that Kevin’s comments do not define who we are,” said Dipoto. “The culture, especially in our clubhouse, is something we are proud of. That has been developed over time and it is driven by our players. They were brought up in a minor league system that stresses community and truth telling and doing the right thing, and they watched a circumstance where we didn’t as an organization do the right thing and we have to be accountable to that.”

Mather may be gone from the organization, but the association will remain. That set of problems will land squarely on Dipoto’s desk. The priority will be to keep it out of the clubhouse as best they can. While continuing to encourage players to talk, express their frustrations and get it out, Servais believes those in uniform can move beyond this.

On his way out to address the team before the first full squad workout of spring training, Servais expressed optimism that for this group, Mather’s comments will not be a hindrance to what he ultimately sees in their path this season.

“I’m very grateful for how they have handled everything that has happened,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me, it really doesn’t. It’s because of the character of this group. The separator is character. I think we talk about character and what adversity does – adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. And I really like what I have seen how we have handled this so far. It hasn’t been easy.

“A lot of people are frustrated and angry – I am one of them – but we will move forward. We are going to have a special year. We are going to see players grow we are going to be very competitive, we are going to play good baseball and I have a feeling we are going to play really important games coming down the stretch. That is the goal and we are going to go get ready to do that.”

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