Kasten brings vast experience to Dodgers
President Obama was watching a game in Stan Kasten's suite at Nationals Park a few weeks after the Lakers had beaten the Celtics in the NBA Finals two summers ago.
"You know, I don't just call the winning coach," Obama said. "I try to call the losing coach as well."
The president hadn't been able to get Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the phone, and he mentioned to Kasten, a former NBA executive, how badly he felt about that.
"I have a high regard for Doc," the president said.
Kasten whipped out his phone and dialed a number.
"I love you, Stan," the voice on the other end of the line said in answering.
"Doc, I'd love to talk," Kasten said, "but would you hold for the President of the United States?"
With that, Kasten handed the phone to Obama.
"Admit it," Kasten said a few weeks later, "you've always wanted to tell someone to hold for the President of the United States."
Kasten was proud of that story, because he knew it spoke volumes about his years as an executive in the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
Rivers had played for the Hawks at a time when Kasten served as the team's chief executive, and all these years later, they remain close.
"I love my players," Kasten said. "OK, maybe I should say I love some of my players."
This is the man who could end up with a vital management position with the Dodgers if a group that includes Magic Johnson and Kasten is approved by MLB owners in their $2 billion purchase of the club from Frank McCourt.
Few sports executives have a broader range of experience than Kasten, who at one time was in charge of the NBA Hawks, NHL Thrashers and MLB Braves. Later, he served as a top executive with the Nationals.
During Kasten's time with the four teams, he gained the trust of people ranging from players to office staffers to executives with other teams.
John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox have praised him effusively for his role in putting together the front-office structure that was in place when the Braves went to the postseason 14 seasons in a row.
Under Kasten's presidency, the Braves were transformed from losers to winners, from being a franchise that drew 800,000 some seasons to one that drew more than 3 million six times. He was one of the guiding voices in the construction of Turner Field.
With the Nationals, Kasten hired a traditional baseball man, Mike Rizzo, to be his general manager, but also set up a team of data-driven analysts to assist in the decision-making process.
Kasten is smart, tough and occasionally combative. Many of the reporters who've covered him through the years have had the pleasure of an early-morning telephone call detailing the shortcomings in their most recent article.
Yet, virtually all of them have, like Rivers, remained close to him even after their time covering his team passed.
Kasten got his start in sports when he met Ted Turner at a Braves-Cardinals game in 1976.
"I liked him, he liked me," Kasten recalled.
He was hired to serve as a lawyer for Turner's sports counsel and sprinted up the corporate ladder, becoming an assistant GM for the Hawks at 27.
Kasten has some unshakeable core beliefs about running a baseball team. He believes the fan experience should be pleasant, that teams must be accountable to their customers. And he believes teams should be built from the inside through scouting and player development.
If Kasten is approved, he'll surely use the work done by Cox and Schuerholz with the Braves as a blueprint for how to run the Dodgers.
He's also a student of the game's history and will almost certainly both understand and tap into the things that have made the Dodgers special, from the former players who created the team's aura to the ballpark that is one of the signature destinations in Major League Baseball.
In both Atlanta and Washington, Kasten told his employees that there really was no magic formula to succeeding. It was a matter of doing things right and getting better every single day.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.