Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has seen interpreters at work. What major leaguer hasn’t?
So, the president of an MLB team complaining about having to pay for a former player’s interpreter struck Rizzo as “kind of ridiculous.”
When a reporter brought it up Monday in a Zoom press conference, Rizzo hadn’t yet heard that part of former Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather’s talk with a Seattle-area rotary club. Video of Mather’s 45-minute address from earlier this month circulated Sunday, sparking outrage on multiple fronts. Mather resigned Monday.
Mather’s chat with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club included a long list of insults and disparaging comments. Mather talked about manipulating players’ service time. He took shots at the MLB Players Association. He called veteran Kyle Seager “overpaid.” Asked an open-ended question about top prospect Julio Rodriguez, one of the first things Mather said was, “His English is not tremendous.” The comment not only was dismissive, but according to several reporters who have interviewed Rodriguez, also untrue.
Mather’s xenophobic remarks continued when asked about how clubs help non-English speakers learn the language. After talking about the Mariners’ academies in Latin American countries, Mather brought up Hisashi Iwakuma as an example of an Asian player who came the United States in his 30s. The Mariners hired the former pitcher as a special assignment coach this season.
“Wonderful human being,” Mather said. “His English is terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, and he came to us, and we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on in the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training.
“And I’m tired of paying his interpreter. Because 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.”
Interpreters often translate for players in interviews but also help with interactions around the ballpark and ease the transition to a new country.
Former Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish also came to the United States from Japan. He made his 2012 MLB debut in his mid-20s. Entering into the 2019 season, Darvish started conducting interviews in English. This past season, with interviews moved to Zoom, once in a while he’d call on translation help.
“A lot of guys, when you put the mic and camera in front of their face, that aren’t used to talking a lot and not used to the English language need that help,” Rizzo said. “And it's no knock on them, a lot of guys speak really good English. But if they need the help, they need to help.”
The Mariners condemned Mather’s remarks in a statement Monday.
“His comments were inappropriate and do not represent our organization’s feelings about our players, staff and fans,” chairman and managing partner John Stanton said. “There is no excuse for what was said, and I won’t try to make one. I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the club and my partners to our players and fans. We must be, and do, better.”