The Making of a President
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Stan Kasten pulls an 8x10 photograph out of a folder in the trunk of his car. "My favorite photo of me and Ted," he says. In the photo, taken during a news conference at the opening of Turner Field in 1997, Turner is sitting to Kasten's right with a big grin on his face. He has just blasted the high concession prices at the new stadium named for him. To Turner's side sits Kasten, the Atlanta Braves' president, his head buried in his hands.
"That pretty much sums it up," Kasten says. "Twenty-five years with Ted Turner. You just never knew what was coming next."
For Kasten, however, the quarter-century he served as Turner's loyal lieutenant -- beginning as a $200-a-week legal counsel fresh out of law school in 1976, and ending as president of all three of Turner's sports teams until Turner sold them in 2001 -- left him with one of the most dazzling résumés in professional sports.
And now, after nearly three years on the sidelines -- he retired from his three-headed job in 2003 -- Kasten, 54, is preparing to get back into the game, under a new general who, in this case, is also a business partner.
Major League Baseball is poised to announce the sale of the Washington Nationals to a group of investors led by Washington area real estate magnate Theodore N. Lerner and his family. Kasten, who led his own group of bidders before merging with Lerner, is expected to be the Nationals' president, as well as a prominent investor, under Lerner.
If so, Washington is getting, in Kasten, someone viewed by baseball's leadership as a model executive -- not only because of the Braves' impressive track record on the field under his command, but especially because of his financial track record. Although the Braves' revenue afforded them the luxury of having one of the highest payrolls in the majors during the 1990s, they rarely overpaid for talent, and the stadium deal Kasten negotiated for the Braves was seen as highly favorable for the team.
On its own, the Kasten group's bid for the Nationals was given little chance of succeeding, but because he is viewed so highly by Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and his lieutenants, it was widely assumed Selig would seek to merge the Kasten group with another prominent one. The merger last month vaulted the Lerner coalition to the top of the list of contenders.
"If he is the selection, they've gotten themselves a first-class sports executive," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "It's fair to say it would be hard to replicate somebody with Stan's wide range of experience and his successes."
Still, others view Kasten as arrogant -- a label he begrudgingly accepts -- and unaccepting of opposing views, such as those that might be held by agents and the media, two groups with whom he has clashed in the past.
"I understand that [word]. I don't mean to be," he said when confronted with the label of being arrogant. "I do have a passionate, self-confident style when I'm trying to make my point."
In a recent interview in Atlanta, Kasten refused to discuss the Nationals, the Lerners or the Washington market. But he said he had turned down multiple offers to run other teams since his 2003 retirement, while looking instead for something meatier to "throw myself into."
"I've been blessed with great people who want to invest in something," Kasten said, "and they're waiting for me to say, 'This is the right deal. This is the right team.' "