Mariners take their stand: ‘Going to take a lot more to break this group up’
As the whole Kevin Mather/Breakfast Bellevue Rotary Club debacle came to light, it was impossible to keep the movie “Major League” from creeping into my mind when thinking about the Mariners.
While fully acknowledging how serious the situation is and will continue to be until confidence and trust both within and outside the walls of T-Mobile Park is restored, players and staff pitted against a villainous front office member in a “we’ll show you by winning” scenario didn’t seem like a terrible way for this group to go.
That thought perhaps crossed Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales’ mind, too.
“Sometimes a common goal can unite you, sometimes a common enemy can do the same if not greater. I think that’s the boat we are in now,” Gonzales said in a Zoom media session Tuesday minutes after the Mariners’ first full-squad workout ended in Peoria, Ariz.
That’s the man who Mather termed as “very boring” bringing it as the first Mariners player to talk since the now former Mariners president and CEO’s insulting remarks from Feb. 5 were made public Sunday.
If you know Marco, you expect the fire. You know the chip on his shoulder is used for good. All that said, you might be a little alarmed by the “us against them” mentality – specifically the need for that mentality.
Fortunately, Marco said other things too.
“I think bigger picture, we view this as an isolated incident. His views are his own,” Gonzales said about Mather. “Certainly the relevance he has to this team and this group, he’s not close to us. He’s not here throwing a ball, he’s not here swinging a bat. Although some of his words were hurtful, personal, certainly to me, I think we’re a lot stronger than that. It’s going to take a lot more to break this group up.”
Gonzales spoke to the team’s culture, echoing the words of manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto in the significance of having a team that is beginning to be run and be guided by the players themselves. It has been a long process to get to this point, with leadership and values stressed in the minor leagues and Servais working to create an open and player-forward environment at the big league level.
As someone who has been in the Mariners’ clubhouse since 2002, the difference I have seen the last two years has been noticeable, and perhaps never more on display than Aug. 26 last year when the team voted unanimously in light of the police shooting of Jacob Blake to not play their scheduled game that night against the Padres. The decision came after a discussion between players and Servais in what was called an emotional team meeting.
“I am extremely proud to be a part of this group,” Gonzales said that afternoon. “We have listened, loved, and supported one another through this tough time. But I’m heartbroken for my brothers and teammates who fear for their lives and their families’ lives on a daily basis. This isn’t about baseball right now. It’s about justice, equality, and understanding. Thank you to our Mariners family for supporting us and standing up for what’s right.”
It’s hard to imagine a team that went through everything it went through together last year – from the uncertainty of even playing a season, to the uncertainty of how they could safely execute one outside of a bubble, to the social justice issues that were finally brought to the forefront – would fall apart because of the comments of one man.
If Marco says they can withstand these personal blows as a team, I believe him.
I also believe that while a popular axiom is that culture flows from the top down, I don’t think that’s necessarily true in baseball. Gonzales points out that Mather was not close to them. He wasn’t swinging a bat or throwing a ball with them. He also wasn’t wearing a uniform, or throwing them batting practice, or providing and breaking down numbers for them, or taking care of them in the training room, or assisting them with the media, or helping them with whatever else they might need while taking care of their uniforms and equipment. In short, he wasn’t with them doing something every day to help put them in a better place to win a ballgame.
That’s what a team is in this game, and that team isn’t taking its cues from outside the clubhouse. It doesn’t mean, however, that they are immune to the damage that has been done.
“I think it is something we all feel embarrassed by,” said Gonzales. “We all feel it doesn’t represent our culture, it doesn’t represent the character of this team. We feel like it is a little bit of a gut punch but something we can move forward from, and certainly we want to make sure we are all on the same page. Although we have our differences between the players and the front office, we want to be under one organization. We want to move forward as a group. I hope we can make the efforts to do that.
“(Dipoto) touched on actions speak a lot louder than words, we have some trust to make up but I know that everyone has the right intentions here that’s in camp. Everyone’s putting their best foot forward to try and become a better person, a better ball player, a better staff member every day.”
As the team puts its best foot forward, you hope you see the same on the other side of the organization. You hope that no matter how convinced the Mariners are this was an isolated incident, the whys and the hows of this happening are explored. That is owed to everyone who falls under the “Mariners” umbrella.
“I’m embarrassed,” Dipoto said. “I’m embarrassed that this is the way we are viewed. For those of you that have been around me or Scott or this team, this is not how we are wired. It is embarrassing to be categorized or deal with the stigma we are now pinned with and we have to shed it. We now have to be accountable to it and find a way to grow beyond.
“I apologize on behalf of our organization for the comments that were made – again, it was a single person’s interpretation. It doesn’t truly represent the way I feel, Scott feels, our 26 players feel, our system worth of players feel, and a lot of the wonderful high character people who work for the Mariners who also went to bed Sunday night feeling embarrassed with this association. The only thing we can say to our fans is, we’re sorry. We will do better.”