This is still Stan Kasten we’re talking about, and so beneath those one-name guys there’s a sign that reads, “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” It was given to him by Mark Walter, the investment billionaire with whom Kasten purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in March 2012.
In his latest act, the one that came after he left his presidency of the Washington Nationals, Kasten has devoted himself to restoring one of baseball’s crown-jewel franchises. On the field, the star-studded Dodgers will open their National League Division Series on Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, another one of Kasten’s former baseball homes. Off the field, the Dodgers have shed the remnants of Frank McCourt’s ruinous stewardship. Ticket sales have skyrocketed, life-size bobbleheads greet fans at the gates, gang members no longer scare away families in the bleachers and Magic Johnson is in the owner’s box.
Kasten, at 61 and three years removed from when he stepped down as Nationals president, is loving every second.
“People who know me, who are friends of mine, who are close to me, when I tell them this, they’re surprised,” Kasten said. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Kasten immersed himself in the Dodgers’ aura. When the Dodgers clinched the National League West, Sandy Koufax called to congratulate him. On his first week on the job, he went home and told his wife, “I got a call from Vin Scully today.”
“Yeah, what did he want?” she replied.
“You don’t understand,” Kasten said. “I got a call from Vin Scully today.”
After joining forces with Walter, Kasten introduced him to another one-name guy: Magic. The group’s successful bid of $2.15 billion for the Dodgers staggered the industry. It saw a loyal, latent fan base hungry to come back after McCourt’s divorce drove the team to bankruptcy. It saw a television rights deal expiring as the market for the Dodgers erupted.
“We knew we had an opportunity to buy something unique,” Kasten said. “People who hadn’t really thought it through or hadn’t analyzed it the way we had were surprised at the purchase price. But our short answer to that question — why’d you pay so much? — comes down to this: because it was worth a lot more.”
In January, the Dodgers reached a television rights deal that could be worth up to $8 billion over 25 years. They hired Janet Marie Smith, who designed Camden Yards and oversaw the modernization of Fenway Park, and poured $100 million into updates and improvements of Dodger Stadium. Season tickets sales have jumped from 17,000 to 32,000, and the Dodgers led the majors in home attendance.