Mather may be gone, but Matherism persists with the Mariners

If you follow much baseball stuff on Twitter, you may have seen the thread from Dae Shik Kim Jr. last Friday night that detailed how the staff at TMP harassed him and his party for having the temerity to be sitting in the expensive seats near the dugout while being not-Caucasian.

If you haven't heard about this yet, here's what happened:

Dae, his brother, and some friends attended Friday night's game against the Rays. A longtime M's fan, Dae usually sits in the cheaper seats, but on this day his brother had gifted the group a treat with second-row seats behind the Mariners' dugout. Dae and his brother are Hawaiian, with very much Asian features, long hair, casual clothing, and generally present in a manner that is not what one would call "business chic." After arriving in their seats and enjoying the first few innings of the game, the group was visited by an usher—not the usher that checked their tickets when they arrived at the section from the concourse—and was asked to present their tickets. No one else in the section was asked to prove they were in their ticketed seats, just them. The manner in which this ticket check was conducted was disturbing enough that Dae went to the customer service window to file a formal written complaint and asked that any follow-up be conducted on the following Monday so he and his group could enjoy the remainder of the game; he was assured they would not be bothered again that night. Instead, a staff manager, one Mike McGwire, went to their seats shortly thereafter to exacerbate the situation and defend the actions of the usher; McGwire asked other patrons in the section—i.e. the white people—if Dae was telling the truth. To their credit, everyone in the section apparently not only corroborated Dae's account but gave McGwire a piece of their collective mind. Dae and his party elected to leave the game after that as it was no longer a fun time and were once again accosted by McGwire—who was accompanied by several police—on the concourse as they attempted to leave the stadium, with McGwire attempting to essentially buy Dae off with trivial recompense, which Dae refused. The following day, someone in the Mariners' front office contacted Dae by phone and owned up to the fact that the behavior by the usher and Mr. McGwire was by no means appropriate and offered apologies, but no resolution was achieved.

It is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of bad behavior and self-inflicted public relations blunders for the organization, following former CEO Kevin Mather's infamous speech to the Bellevue Rotary that cost him his job, Mather's earlier admissions on video of using the COVID pandemic as an excuse to enact unpopular policy changes at TMP, sexual harassment by three Mariners executives (including Mather) of female staff (three of whom received settlement payments in return for dropping lawsuits), and a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by former performance director Dr. Lorena Martin asserting that she was fired for bringing complaints to Mather and two of the team's owners about receiving racist and misogynist treatment from other employees (the suit was resolved in arbitration).

Mather was the president and CEO of the Mariners from 2014 until his forced resignation last spring. Before that, he served as a club executive in other capacities for roughly 20 years. His attitudes, his prejudices, his general contempt for his customers, it all percolated through the organization. A top-down philosophy infecting all levels of staff, at least in terms of off-the-field areas of the Mariners as a business. Mather was an asshole, we all knew it; he was sexist, we all knew it; he was racist, we all suspected it and then he basically admitted it in the February speech that did him in.

(It should be noted that on the field, on the actual everyday baseball side of things, the Mariners don't seem to operate this way—they have more African American players than any other MLB team and have been front and center in terms of player support for civil rights causes and even in their community involvement with things like the Hometown Nine program.)

Mather is gone now, thank the deity of your choice. But his influence has still to be culled from the business culture. Obviously, the fact that the business side of the Mariners has been infected with racism and sexism and enough greed to embarrass your average Ferengi isn't entirely the fault of Kevin Mather; it's been, sadly, the norm for American corporate cultures for a very long time. But he did embody it quite starkly.

A lot of this stuff has gone on behind the scenes, out of the public eye and not part of the average fan's experience up close and personal. But Dae's treatment at the hands of game-day staff and management can't be ignored, thankfully. His brother captured some of the interactions on video and his Twitter posts have achieved viral status. Plus, his fellow fans in the section had his back 100%, much to the surprise and agitation, it seems, of Mr. McGwire, who turned an upsetting but contained incident into a full-blown conflagration by doubling down on the harassment and voicing a kind of tone-deaf-at-best party line in a spectacularly counterproductive attempt to sweep the matter under the rug.

It seems pretty clear that the incident on Friday stems from an overall attitude from the M's front office that is focused on greed. The racism is in service to that. The expensive seats are marketed to wealthy people and corporations, and in that effort management appears intent on maintaining at minimum a classist segregation—selling those seats to the wealthy folk will be harder if also sitting in the area are some of, you know, "those people." Management has shown again and again in the last decade-plus that they do not give a damn about their less wealthy customers. From ticket pricing schemes to Mather's new policies of make-it-as-inconvenient-as-possible-to-bring-anything-into-the-stadium and turning the facility cashless, they've made their goals clear: fill the ballpark with people who have money to burn and soak as much out of them as you can, sneakily and dishonestly if necessary, and anyone that isn't swimming in cash can go screw themselves.

Dae spoke with our fellow Mariner bloggers at Lookout Landing on their podcast about his experience at last Friday's game. It's an interesting conversation and I recommend giving it your attention—the file is available below to stream here or download. Dae gives more detail about what happened beyond what was shared in his Twitter posts, and you can bet this isn't an isolated event. This sort of racial profiling and insulting behavior happens all the time, at ballparks and out in the greater world, and always has. We hear about it now thanks to the Internet and camera phones, but it isn't new.

Keep an eye out. When you see or experience this sort of treatment from staff at TMP, take notes and take video. Report it to customer service and put it online. Write up an account of it and send it to us, we'll run it here. Most people working the games are good folks, but there are some that are not, and more still that might be following orders from above in order to keep their jobs. Cleaning up the Mariners' and the stadium's culture and attitudes is going to be an uphill climb, but as in the greater world, every bit of progress is important.