Old Friends, Back in the Game

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2008

When Andy MacPhail had a desk at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he would occasionally dial up his notoriously fidgety, then-unemployed friend, Stan Kasten. "If he was telling the truth," MacPhail said this week, "he was out on his back porch with a cup of coffee, perfectly happy."

That was back in, say, 2004, after Kasten departed his positions with Atlanta's Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, a three-sport executive in a four-sport town. Flip ahead a couple of years, and the calls went the other way: MacPhail, unemployed and likewise "perfectly happy," and Kasten on the other end wondering how that was possible.

By now, though, both men are very much back in baseball -- Kasten as the president of the Washington Nationals, MacPhail as the president of baseball operations of the Baltimore Orioles, two teams that play a three-game series this weekend at Camden Yards. Thus, tonight, for the first time since each of them enjoyed a hiatus from their life's work -- Kasten, from late 2003 to mid '05, MacPhail from late '06 to mid '07 -- they will meet as friends and opponents, each charged with resurrecting a franchise that had been in disarray.

"I know he believes in things that I believe in very much," Kasten said.

Indeed, attribute the following sentence to a Baltimore-Washington sports official: "As opposed to making what I would call sort of a 'Grade B' free agent signing splash, let's take the money and invest it in our franchise. That's scouting, player development."

Nationals fans could immediately point to Kasten, who has thumped that drum since he arrived in town. Yet it was MacPhail who uttered those words earlier this week.

These two aren't in complete lockstep. Kasten is high-strung and hyper; MacPhail, so low-key that Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" serves as his cellphone ring. But they forged a tight relationship 20 years ago, when Kasten was first at the helm of the Braves and MacPhail a young general manager of the Minnesota Twins. They solidified it during the most tumultuous time in the game's history, the labor wars of 1994-95, when each worked on different facets of the strike's eventual settlement.

Now, their ballparks are separated by some 39 miles. The Orioles have endured 10 straight losing seasons. The Nationals haven't had a winning year since they relocated to Washington in 2005. The tasks, for Kasten and MacPhail, are somewhat parallel.

"I think, and I say this without hesitation, that Baltimore and Washington have two of the best executives in the game," Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said yesterday. "There's no doubt about it in my mind."

Still, it's worth noting that these two men -- close personally and professionally -- come at their jobs from distinctly different backgrounds.

Kasten's 17-year tenure at the helm of the Braves is well documented, a run that included the franchise's two most important personnel moves -- moving Bobby Cox from the front office to the dugout, then hiring General Manager John Schuerholz away from the Kansas City Royals -- that led to a string of 14 straight division titles. But before that, Kasten was a lawyer, an NBA general manager, an executive running Atlanta's franchises at the behest of media mogul Ted Turner.

Titles Kasten did not hold in baseball: business manager for a rookie level team; assistant in the ballpark operations department; assistant director of player development and scouting; assistant general manager; general manager; son of a Hall of Fame executive; grandson of a Hall of Fame executive. Those all apply to MacPhail.

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