Mariners President Kevin Mather Under Fire for Comments on Players Not Fluent in English


In a Zoom call with rotary group on Feb. 5, Mariners president Kevin Mather made some insensitive comments on former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and prospect outfielder Julio Rodriguez's English, among other things. 

The Zoom call was uploaded to YouTube on Sunday and has since been deleted but was re-uploaded along with a transcription and can be found here.  

While talking about how the Mariners helped their international players learn English, Mather brought up Iwakuma, an All-Star in 2013 with the team, and discussed how he didn't care for paying an interpreter. 

"It frustrates me," he said. "For instance, we just re-hired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being; his English was terrible. He wanted to get back into the game. He came to us. We quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what's going on with the Japanese league. 

"He's coming to spring training. And I'm going to say, I'm tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we'd also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better; his English got better when we told him that!"

Iwakuma was hired by the Mariners in January as a special assignments coach. Rodriguez, 20, is just starting his career. 

Rodriguez hails from the Dominican Republic and Mather spoke on his level of English. 

"Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined," Mather said. "He is loud; his English is not tremendous."

In a story from October 2018, The Athletic's Corey Brock said that he conducted an interview with Rodriguez completely in English, which was a first for him at the time, and said he was so proud that he was going to call and tell his parents. 

Rodriguez appeared to address the comments with a meme via Twitter. 

Mather also discussed how the Mariners made an offer to outfielder Jarred Kelenic back in 2019 and divulged why Kelenic refused the offer.

"We offered him (Kelenic) a long-term deal, six-year deal for substantial money with options to go farther," Mather said. “After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he’s turned us down and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself."

Later on Sunday evening, Mather released a statement apologizing for his comments, attributing them to a "terrible lapse in judgment" and clarifying that they do not reflect the team's baseball leadership.

"My comments were my own. They do not reflect the views and strategy of the Mariners baseball leadership who are responsible for decisions about the development and status of the players at all levels of the organization," Mather's statement read. "I've been on the phone most of the day today apologizing to the many people I have insulted, hurt or disappointed in speaking at a recent online event.

"I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have cause to the Seattle Mariners organization."

This isn't the first time Mather has found himself under fire. He and two other executives were accused of sexual harassment in 2018 by two former female employees. The Mariners said they "made amends" for accusations and paid about $500,000 to the employees as a settlement.