In the Dodgers’ new three-man ownership group, Magic Johnson is the face, Mark Walter is the money — and Stan Kasten is the brains. Kasten, who turned 60 in February, has been in professional sports management since his late 20s.
In 12 years as the Atlanta Braves president, he turned in 12 winning seasons. Kasten may be new to Los Angeles, but not to fans of the Washington Nationals, his most recent stop.
Here’s a familiar scenario: half a dozen investors want to buy a major league baseball team. One group includes Stan Kasten. But the team for sale wasn't the Dodgers. It was the Washington Nationals.
Which group won the bid? Stan Kasten's, of course.
Phil Wood, TV commentator for the Washington Nationals, says Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, let it be known that Major League Baseball would look kindly upon Stan Kasten. And so Kasten ran the Nationals for four years.
"He was always out there," Wood said. "Stan’s accessibility was remarkable. I don’t think there’s another team president in Major League Baseball who got out amongst the fans. This was a guy you would see walk around the stadium and straighten napkin holders."
Everyone in Washington, it seems, has a Stan Kasten story. Outside the stadium, before an exhibition game, Nats fan John Ramsey vouched for the Kasten personal touch. He recalled waiting around at the ballpark for three hours for what turned out to be a rainout. "I sent an email to him, and he wrote back and gave me five tickets for the rest of my family to go to a future game."
But Kasten has his critics as well. He's called "tough," "the kind of the guy who’s very willing to spend, but not necessarily spend in the right kinds of ways" and "a mixed bag."
Longtime fan Matt Penrod questioned Kasten’s loyalty to the Nats and cites one example that had much of the city up in arms. "When the team was really struggling," Penrod said, "he thought it would be a great idea to invite all the Philadelphia fans that he could down here to come to games here."
The Nationals front office offered package deals to Phillies fans. Thousands made the 90-minute trip — and they sold out the ballpark. But that made it tough for Nationals fans to find a ticket.
"And over the past three years, we have been so inundated Phillie fans," said Penrod, "and they’re horrible! They’re rude. They’re obnoxious." Penrod warns Dodger fans that with Kasten manning the ticket booths, Dodger Stadium might fill up with Giants fans when San Francisco is in town.
Elise Frankle calls herself a third-generation Washington fan; her father and grandfather rooted for the long-departed Senators. She said Kasten wouldn’t spend to bring high-priced talent to D.C. She said Kasten did "a lot of interesting things with the ballpark itself, but often focusing more on the architecture than on the players."
Phil Wood agreed that Kasten’s gift isn’t picking future Hall of Famers. "Stan I don’t think would ever identify himself as an evaluator of baseball talent, as far as on-the-field talent. But certainly, Stan knows how to hire GMs. He knows how to hire administrators."
And he knows how to negotiate. Ask D.C. City Councilman Tommy Wells, whose district includes the ballpark. Wells said he likes and respects Stan Kasten, a man he calls honest and straightforward.
Wells went mano-a-mano with Kasten over who should pay for a bike valet at the new ballpark. Wells says Nationals Stadium was part of more than $9 billion of new development in his council district.
"So I deal with some of the most sophisticated folks in the country," Wells said. "Stan has been the toughest person I have ever negotiated with."
Wells won the bike valet battle. The D.C. councilman has advice for L.A. city leaders who might have their own issues with the new Dodger president: "Don’t let him wear you down. Hang in there."
Nats TV commentator Phil Wood said L.A. won’t likely be the last stop for Stan Kasten. He thinks the new Dodger boss has his eye on Bud Selig’s job when Selig retires as baseball commissioner.