Mateo let Mariners, and himself, down
The words are four years old, but Chuck Armstrong talks as if he heard them four days ago. So stale, yet so fresh. "I will make you proud...
Seattle Times staff columnist
The words are four years old, but Chuck Armstrong talks as if he heard them four days ago.
So stale, yet so fresh.
"I will make you proud."
Julio Mateo said that to Armstrong, the Mariners president, near the end of spring training in 2003. Mateo was vying for a roster spot and preparing for an important outing. Armstrong told the pitcher he was watching. Mateo was inspired.
Mateo went on to have a dominating, roster-clinching performance. Afterward, he tipped his cap to Armstrong.
"I told you I was going to make you proud," Armstrong remembers Mateo saying. "I'll always make you proud."
Now Mateo is gone, expunged, no longer part of a franchise fostering a do-good reputation. The Mariners watched him grow from raw Dominican teenager to hard-throwing major-leaguer. But Mateo turned violent.
On Tuesday, nearly three months after Mateo's arrest for allegedly biting, hitting and strangling his wife, the Mariners traded him for Jesus (Merchan).
"You never harm a female," said Armstrong, who still wants Mateo to succeed. "My dad told me a long time ago that it's one thing you never, ever do. We tried to handle it the right way. We helped Julio. We found another opportunity for him.
"But we believe the Mariner brand stands for something. We want to stand for what's good and right."
Fighting to regain relevance, the Mariners did what's right.
Inching closer to first place in the American League West, they never lost perspective.
Knowing Mateo could help them, they honored a commitment to thwart spousal abuse.
"I give them a lot of credit for taking their commitment seriously," said Nan Stoops, the executive director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "They responded to this situation even better than I ever expected."
Stoops was concerned after learning of Mateo's arrest. For 10 years, the coalition and the Mariners have partnered in the "Refuse To Abuse" campaign. Each year, the Mariners have assigned players to send messages in print, radio and television condemning domestic abuse. Willie Bloomquist and Raul Ibanez are the representatives this season.
It's a wonderful idea as long as players stay out of trouble. But after this incident, the Mariners had to prioritize: team goals or the franchise's reputation?
They suspended Mateo for 10 days without pay and optioned him to Class AAA Tacoma.
And they kept him in the minors, even though they endured bullpen injuries. Even though Mateo was dominating in the minors.
Mateo isn't an impact player. Still, he could have helped the Mariners. They chose integrity over roster stability. For a franchise reeling from three straight losing seasons, it was a complicated decision.
"I definitely think they stood by their message," said Stoops, who added the Mariners contacted her for advice following Mateo's arrest. "With pro teams, a lot of times community relations don't have much influence on player personnel."
For evidence, look at Philadelphia, Mateo's new team. The Phillies endured heavy criticism last season for not benching pitcher Brett Myers after he was accused of assaulting his wife. Then his wife, Kim Myers, decided she didn't want to prosecute her husband.
So the Phillies signed their pitcher to a $25 million deal in February. And now they've traded for another pitcher accused of spousal abuse.
Coming soon: karmic implosion.
Mateo didn't stay true to his words. The Mariners did to theirs.
Armstrong remembers speaking with Mateo after his arrest.
"I let you down," Mateo said.
"You did," Armstrong replied.
With that, Mateo's relationship with the Mariners was over. The team helped him get counseling. The Mariners still treated him well. But he couldn't play for them anymore.
The cynic would say it's easy to make an example of a decent player. Would the Mariners be so tough on an All-Star? Armstrong says yes.
"It wouldn't have made any difference," Armstrong said. "With Julio, some media members and fans said, 'Look at how he's doing in Tacoma. Maybe you should bring him back.'
"We believe in second chances. We helped him get one. But for us, it's just an absolute rule. You don't do that."
The Mariners have shown what their "Refuse To Abuse" infomercials cannot: the actual consequences of violence.
Even if the franchise fails to make the postseason, it is clearly better now.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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