On July 26, 2021, the Seattle Mariners pulled off an improbable comeback victory over the 1st place AL West Houston Astros. They had a seven-run deficit by the 4th inning and the team slowly chipped away at the lead until the 8th inning. I was not watching the game live, but I was on the MLB Rally app. I watched with excitement when Dylan Moore, who had never hit a grand slam in his 3 years at the majors, did so. I could almost hear Dave Niehaus yelling his famous slogan, “Get out the rye bread and mustard grandma! It’s a grand salami!” Of course, the journey to the grand slam was filled with these moments. Tom Murphy, Ty France, and Jarred Kelenic, yes, THE Jarred Kelenic, who despite the Mariners’ protestation is failing to demonstrate why he was a top prospect, all managed to get on base that inning.
Of course, in a perfect world, as Mariners fans would agree, this is not the end. I should be writing about how the Mariners are the biggest surprise this season for playoff contention. How this win shows that despite, at the time of the grand slam the team having 51 run differential, they have a better record than the New York Yankees and the 1st place NL East New York Mets. But alas, this is not the case because this is the Mariners I am talking about.
Jon Bois of SB Nation said it best in “The History of the Seattle Mariners” web documentary, “The Seattle Mariners are not contenders, they are protagonists.” Every time the Mariners have something good on their hands, they seem to find new ways to ruin it.
On July 27, 2021, the Mariners announced that they had traded their star closer Kendall Graveman and reliever Rafael Montero to the Astros for infielder Abraham Toro and reliever Joe Smith. This trade reeks of incompetence at the highest levels. There are two reasons for this.
For starters, the trade makes no sense. According to Baseball Reference.com, Montero has a WAR of-1.9. Abraham Toro, who is a utility player, has a WAR of 0.7. Joe Smith has a WAR of -0.4. This seems to be a smart trade. The Mariners were able to get rid of their worst reliever. Except, Graveman has a WAR of 1.5 and lead the team in saves. Combining both Graveman’s and Montero’s WARs equals -0.4. The WAR totals for Toro and Smith equals 0.3. There is no discernible difference between the duos exchanged. In fact, by trading their efficient closer to a divisional rival currently in 1st place, the Mariners may have handed over one of their best chances to reach the playoffs away.
The second reason is that Graveman was not just another disposable player; he was a clubhouse leader and the front office had neglected to tell the players what they intended to do. Almost immediately after the trade became public, sports reporters immediately reported that Mariners players had not only felt “betrayed” by the act, but also felt that the front office had given up on winning. One player was quoted as saying, “It never changes.” At the beginning of the regular season, the Mariners were among the worst ballclubs and did not look to be candidates for a wild card spot. By the time the All-Star break began, the Mariners had a winning record and oozed with the slight possibility for playoff contention. Graveman was a large reason for the team’s success. His reward was to be traded away. In The Seattle Times article that detailed the fall-out of the trade, a picture of Graveman in his new Astros uniform talking to the reporters says it all. He looks sad at where he is now. Many people are sad at this including me, a Yankees fan out of all people, because of what it represents.
The failings of the Mariners continued again with the first press conference for Catie Griggs, the team’s new president of business operations Catie Griggs on July 28, 2021. It was not anything that Ms. Griggs said or did, she in fact has the right idea of making the Mariners be the most progressive team in baseball. This is all nice, but everyone seemed to forget why the Mariners may have hired her and who was sitting next to her at the press conference table.
The Mariners front office has been riffed with scandals of sexual harassment, employees being abused, and racism. In 2018, The Seattle Times published a report on sexual harassment claims filed against top executive officials. One of those accused was the CEO and President Kevin Mather. The Mariners settled those claims and Mather issued a public apology (after the report had been released), “ I am truly sorry for the people I hurt and how I came across.” General Manager Jerry Dipoto disagreed with the report saying, “We do not believe it accurately reflects the values and culture of our organization” and that they had taken appropriate measures against those who had harassed the women. His words did not go into the specifics of what the remedies were and did not question why those accused were not fired. In fact, none of those accused in those cases faced consequences. For example, Mather continued his post until this year after his surprisingly honest confessions to employment mistreatment on a Zoom call for a Seattle Rotary club went viral. To add more insult to injury, he was drinking from a mug with the statement “Women’s lives our passion” embroidered on the front during that call.
In 2018, a former Mariners employee named Lorena Martin alleged Dipoto and others engaged in racial discrimination against Latino players. MLB did clear the team of such acts after finding no clear evidence and the case was settled in 2021. Still, it is concerning to see another workplace allegation being leveled and it is logical to assume that the front office did indeed discriminate considering Mather, on his Zoom call, kept emphasizing how certain players did not speak English well. I find it hard to believe that no one else knew about Mather’s thoughts on non-English speaking players.
The Mariners front office never took the initiative to fix a culture of unacceptable behavior. If Ms. Martin’s allegations were correct, despite the law’s holding that there was not enough evidence, then Dipoto needs to leave.
To get back to my contention that it is important to know who was sitting next to Ms. Criggs at the press conference, it was Dipoto. It is uncomfortable and it makes Ms. Criggs look like a token. Perhaps by hiring a woman to a high-profile position within the team, the boys’ club thinks they can satisfy critics of their oafish actions. I do not believe the Mariners front office is going to be serious about changing for the better. Not after the Graveman trade and not after how they failed to respond to bad behavior allegations.