- - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LOS ANGELES — I always thought of Stan Kasten as a Jersey guy, where he was born and raised – even after 17 years in Atlanta and five here in Washington, where he was part-owner and team president of the Washington Nationals.

But now, after seven years as owner and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers – the team the Nationals face in the best-of-five National League Division Series starting here Thursday — has Kasten gone Hollywood? Is he an L.A. type of guy now?

“I’m versatile,” he said “I can drop some Jersey on you when the situation calls for it. But I feel very comfortable in L.A. I still live in Atlanta. My family is still in Atlanta. I only spend between 30 and 45 days a year here [there]. I spend most of my time in L.A, and I move around quite comfortable.”

So he is an “A-list” guy, right?

“I didn’t say that,” Kasten said. “I move around quite comfortably gawking at A-listers.”



If his success as president of the Dodgers is any measure, Kasten is very comfortable there.

Since he joined with Magic Johnson and Mark Walter to purchase the Dodgers in 2012, the franchise has won seven straight National League West division titles and the last two NL pennants. This year they finished 106-54.

He has overseen the upgrade of Dodger Stadium, which had fallen into disrepair, with plans to finish the additions in time to host the 2020 All-Star Game

They have also led baseball in attendance all seven years under Kasten, and this year drew 3.9 million fans — almost 50,000 per game.

For a little perspective, that’s 22,000 a game more than his old team, the Nationals drew this season.

Granted, it’s the Dodgers, one of baseball’s crown jewel franchises. But they had fallen into disarray under the ownership of Frank McCourt, and had driven away loyal fans. In 2011, the Dodgers drew just 36,236 per game.

I remember the moment I knew that Kasten would wind up as the Dodgers owner. He had resigned as Nationals president after his five-year contract was up in 2010, and was looking for other opportunities. I was with him at an off-season event when he asked me if I had been following the bitter divorce case between Frank and Jamie McCourt, of which the ownership of the Dodgers was part of the dispute.

I knew then that Kasten would wind up in Los Angeles — just as I knew during the early stages of the bidding for the Nationals after Major League Baseball relocated the franchise to Washington, the ownership group that brought in Kasten would likely wind up with the team. Fortunately for the Lerner family, they recruited Kasten, who is one of the most powerful and influential behind-the-scenes figures in the business of baseball.

His time in Washington didn’t work out as he hoped when he discovered the Lerner family had different ideas on how to run a franchise than the executive who had run three sports teams in Atlanta — the Braves, the NBA Hawks and the now-defunct NHL Thrashers. Kasten won 14 straight division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series championship during his time with the Braves.

Still, Kasten speaks fondly of Washington. “I loved all my time in D.C.,” he said. “I’m back there as often as I can be because I love the city and the fans and the organization.”

But, let’s face it, the Nationals were not the Dodgers. Nor were the Braves.

Running an iconic club like the Dodgers — the franchise of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and Sandy Koufax — that’s a different game.

“Doing what I am doing now is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Kasten said. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, it’s also the most important thing I’ve ever done, because the opportunity to restore an iconic franchise to some of its former glory is a dream come true. For a guy who does what I do, it’s the coolest thing imaginable.”

It hasn’t all been smooth. The Dodgers have been in a television battle going on six years now. The deal they made with granting Time Warner Cable exclusive marketing rights for SportsNet L.A., which the team owns, for $8.35 billion, keeps them off some cable distributors, leaving a large group of viewers blacked out, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kasten also took some heat this winter when he was put on the spot in the team’s FanFest about the lack of spending on players this offseason — specifically Bryce Harper, who many believed was destined for the Dodgers in free agency — and his lack of response to those questions.

But he has helped build a progressive front office, led by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman (whose contract is up this season), that has been at the forefront of the new age of player development.

“I recognized that we had to get ahead of that wave because if we weren’t ahead, we were going to fall behind,” Kasten said. “So I had to change our front office. That transition was very successful. Any success I’ve had in baseball is because we were able to put together good front offices, like we had in Atlanta, like what you still see in Washington and now here in L.A. We caught up and sped ahead to be one of the teams at the forefront of this new way of playing and developing players.”

The speed at which the game is changing is challenging for long-time baseball executives, he said.

“I had this conversation with (Phillies president) Andy MacPhail,” Kasten recalled. “He was out of the game for about two years while I was doing this. When he came back, I told him, ‘Let me tell you something. Here is what you need to prepare for, because the game is different than even you will recognize from two years ago.’ He found that hard to believe, but pretty soon he saw what I was saying. All of us had to make changes and adapt. We did it, and I think Andy is in the process of doing it. I can see ahead where they will be very successful.”

Well, they have Bryce Harper, I said. You don’t.

“I don’t,” he sighed. “I don’t. That’s good. I have other players you know. I don’t know if you noticed.”

Yes, he does — including MVP candidate Cody Bellinger. He has arguably the best collection of players in baseball.

This is the second time Kasten has faced his old team in the postseason, as the Dodgers defeated the Nationals in five games in the 2016 division series.

While Kasten didn’t assemble a stellar collection of players during his time in Washington, he did one thing that saved the franchise and put them on the path to four division titles and Tuesday’s wild card win — he hired Mike Rizzo as assistant general manager.

Kasten found himself up against the wall with the Lerners, who loved the self-destructive Jim Bowden, their general manager. Hiring Rizzo was Kasten’s hedge against the inevitable failure and departure of Bowden.

“We hired Mike, but all the people that we brought in, starting with Mike, who are still there, like Doug (Harris, the assistant GM), up and down the organization,” Kasten said. “It’s a great front office, they’ve had a lot of success, and I expect that will continue for quite a while.”

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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