Mather wasn’t the exception in MLB – He’s the rule

Kevin Mather had to go, of course. But his resignation doesn’t really change how awful the sport of baseball has become.

Mather was, until today, the president and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, the only major league franchise never to have played in a World Series. Founded in 1977, the Mariners have somehow avoided making the championship series for 44 years and haven’t even made the playoffs since 2001, which is actually pretty difficult to do considering how many teams get to play in the postseason these days.

Unless you’re intentionally trying not to be competitive, that is. Which it appears the Mariners were – and probably still are – doing. Don’t take my word for it… take Mather’s:

  • If the Mariners had needed players in 2020 due to COVID, “there was no chance you were going to see” top prospects Jerred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, and others “at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to start the service-time clock… You might have seen my big tummy out there in left field” instead.
  • Talking about prospect Julio Rodriguez, Mather admitted the team had no plans to let him make the major league squad this year, extending the team’s control over him an additional year: “Everybody says he’ll be here in 2021. He won’t be here ’til 2022 or 2023.” Service-time manipulation by major league teams is one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport, so give Mather credit for being so up front about how being uncompetitive is part of the plan.
  • Mather also decided to go down the xenophobia trail, commenting that former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma’s English “suddenly got better when we told him” that Mather was “tired of paying his interpreter.” And this shot at the aforementioned Rodriguez, who speaks English quite well, thank you: “[He has] a personality bigger than all of you combined… He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”
  • He also called veteran third baseman Kyle Seager “overpaid” and said it would be Seager’s last year in Seattle, which seems to indicate (well ahead of time) that the team has no interest in his 2022 option year. Seager has been one of the team’s few dependable players over the past decade.

Which local chapter of QAnon or the John Birch Society was Mather addressing with these comments? Surely this must have been a secret meeting among close friends that Mather was confident wouldn’t leak a video of his idiot remarks, right? Nope. It was the monthly meeting of the Bellevue, WA Rotary Club.

Beyond the compelling evidence that the way the Mariners have been running their operations is broken – and they’re hardly the only team that runs their business this way – I’m stunned by the sheer arrogance on display here. Was Mather trying to be funny? Trying to ingratiate himself with some local town leaders? Did he think they’d actually agree with his methods?

He apologized last night, saying his remarks didn’t reflect the actual positions of the team, but since he was the president and CEO, actually they were. But not any more, since as I noted, he resigned today.

The Mariners’ level of futility approaches that of the Detroit Lions, except that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and league rules mostly even out team revenues league-wide so no one’s at a competitive disadvantage financially and therefore every team has an incentive to try to win. MLB doesn’t work that way, so the smaller market teams have decisions to make that often are in opposition to trying to put a winning team on the field each season (the Padres’ recent contract extensions and free-agent signings to the contrary).

People like Kevin Mather certainly make it difficult to care about their product. The fact that baseball is considered a “product” in the first place was probably a warning sign in itself.

Some quickies on a Thursday

Let’s see if that headline works as clickbait. 🙂

Racism is still alive and well in baseball

A quick followup from yesterday’s post about MLB “recognizing” the Negro Leagues. Craig Calcaterra goes into more detail about how, even though the color line was broke in 1947, the damage from baseball’s racist policies continued and still has effects on the game today:

MLB’s skimming off of only a small handful of superstars in the 1940s and 1950s, while shunning the vast majority of its players and workers, was enough to crater the Negro Leagues as a business, leading to their destruction and leading to the end of countless on-the-field and off-the-field baseball careers. It also led to a much, much slower and less comprehensive integration of the game than we may have otherwise gotten. That foot-dragging foreclosed the would-be careers of multiple generations of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives which, in turn, foreclosed the sort of intergenerational role modeling and mentoring which would’ve led to a greater number of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives than we have in the game today. Which is to say that even if the sort of racism that motivated MLB’s failure to properly assess the worth of the Negro Leagues back in the 40s and 50s is not apparent in the game now, the legacy inspired by that racism persists.

Craig writes a newsletter on Substack called “Cup of Coffee,” and this is from today’s free edition. Check out the whole thing if you’re interested in a different take on baseball, sports, and everything else. If you like it, subscribe!

Trolling for a pardon

It’s hard to argue (unless you work there, I suppose) that Google might be a just a tad too big these days and that antitrust laws ought to be brought to bear before they (along with Amazon and Facebook) have effectively taken over commerce. But I’d feel a lot better about this lawsuit if it wasn’t being led by the same guy who did this a few weeks ago:

Paxton is under investigation for bribery and abuse of his office. He fired several of his senior staffers awhile back because they might have been collecting information for a whistleblower complaint. Between the nonsense lawsuit (which was quickly dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court because Texas had no standing to bring it in the first place) and now this salvo against Google (another frequent Trump target), it looks like Paxton is trying to show how deserving he is for a pardon. Which means I have some doubts about the legal competence behind this otherwise welcome investigation into the range of influence of one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

The Negro Leagues were always major leagues

Major League Baseball announced today that it now considers the Negro Leagues to be “major leagues.” This is long overdue. The various leagues that made up what we call the “Negro Leagues” included the Negro National League (which played from 1920 to 1931), the Eastern Colored League (1923-1928), the second Negro National League (1933-1948), and the Negro American League (1937 to about 1950, continuing as a barnstorming circuit through the fifties after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in 1947 reduced the interest in the Negro leagues).

The players who spent time in these leagues did so because they were prohibited from playing in either the American League or the National League, and in most cases the minor leagues as well. So Black entrepreneurs started their own teams and signed some of the best players in baseball history to play for them. One interesting side effect of this decision, which comes on the centennial of the Negro leagues, will be on the all-time major league statistical leaders.

Anyone who is concerned that the quality of play of the Negro leagues wasn’t up to the same standard as the NL and AL should keep in mind that the following teams’ seasons are already considered to be “major league quality”:

  • 1916 Philadelphia Phillies, 36-117 (.235), finished 54 1/2 games back
  • 1935 Boston Braves, 38-115 (.248), finished 61 1/2 games back
  • 1962 New York Mets, 40-120 (.250), finished 60 1/2 games back (and at least had the excuse of being an expansion team that year)
  • 1904 Washington Senators, 38-113 (.252), finished 55 1/2 games back
  • 1919 Philadelphia Athletics, 36-104 (.257), finished 52 games back
  • And, of course, our beloved 2003 Detroit Tigers, 43-119 (.265), finished 47 games back… in a five-team division!

This doesn’t even include pre-modern era teams that are somehow still considered “major league,” like the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who finished 20-134 for a winning percentage of .130, 84 games back. Their owners also owned the National League’s St. Louis franchise (then known as the “Perfectos”) and they chose to transfer all of the Spiders’ good players to St. Louis, leaving very little in the way of talent behind. The Spiders were terrible, couldn’t draw any fans to old League Park, and ended up playing most of their games on the road. They folded after the 1899 season, but the Spiders nickname is still one of the front-runners to replace the current Cleveland Baseball Team’s moniker.

This increases the number of positive decisions Rob Manfred has made this year from zero to one, though I do wonder what financial pressure was put on MLB to finally decide to do this, seeing as how every decision the commissioner and the owners make seems to be based on how to squeeze the last bit of income out of their “product.”

Finally, I’ll point out that MLB’s decision in no way validates the Negro leagues as major leagues. On the contrary, nothing Manfred or the MLB public relations office did today changed a thing. The recognition is nice, but the men – and women (see Effa Manley and others) – who were involved with the Negro leagues already knew they were major league.