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February 21, 2008 at 10:10 am ET
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President’s Day

Nationals Team President Stan KastenI mentioned a couple different times that I got the chance to talk to Nationals Team President Stan Kasten. It wasn’t exactly an exclusive — there were dozens of others in the room to hear him speak. And it wasn’t exactly an interview either — but he did answer any and all questions thrown at him.

The first thing he said: “Sometimes you get in trouble for things and you claim you’re misquoted. That never happened to me. Every time I got in trouble, it was exactly what I said.”

I did my best to make sure he got in trouble for only what he said, so the majority of this are his exact quotes. The stuff at the bottom is me having to paraphrase from my own notes. A big thanks to Stan for letting me post everything he said.

How did you get your first job with the Braves?

Kasten: I was seated right next to the dugout. I was such a fan that I even knew who owners were. I knew this was Ted Turner, the new owner of the Braves. To this day I don’t know how I knew that was him, but I just did. When the game was over, I went up to him and we just started talking. He is just goofy enough to actually entertain that kind of conversation. Ted does things that no one else would do — and they work out for him. He’s an amazing guy. We hit it off, and he asked me to write him a letter, so I wrote him a letter, he invited me to Atlanta and he hired me. It’s like asking someone who wins the lottery for advice on how to do that.

How is baseball going to get on top of steroids and HGH?

Kasten: Steroids has been gotten on top of. We’re on top of steroids. We had to drag the union kicking and screaming, and it did, regretfully, take an act of Congress to get them in place. Steroids have been taken care of because we’ve had an effective testing system in place for 2 or 3 years now. We’ve had virtually no positives. I can say to you that I think steroids is out of the game, and that’s a wonderful thing.

That’s different from HGH. There is to this day, still, not a reliable test for HGH. The nearest one on the horizon is a blood test, not a urine test. The union makes a big deal out of this: “Oh, well, blood tests are a completely different animal, we’re not ever allowing blood tests. ” That’s a distinction without a difference. I don’t buy that for a minute. I’m right with the commissioner on this. I don’t want to punish anyone. I don’t want to suspend anyone. I don’t want to take away anyone’s money. I just want it out of the game. Whatever it takes to get it out of the game, that’s what I want to do.

There are people who will tell you that blood testing is a bit more dignified than urine testing because you don’t have to watch anyone urinate. We take blood all the time. We take it for preseason physicals, because we’re concerned about players’ health, and that’s OK with the union.

I have union people who tell me they want drugs out of the game, too. They don’t want people taking drugs and going out on the job and possibly putting themselves in jeopardy. They don’t want people taking steroids and injuring themselves.

We have got a lot of work to do on HGH. I do think the union is going to cooperate because they kind of got not choice. It’s clear that congress will not accept any excuses. As soon as there is a reliable HGH test, I’m confident we’re going to adopt it no matter what form it takes. Then we’re going to have to worry about the next thing that comes down the pike, because there always will be something.

Photo credit:  jdland.com

When are the Nationals going to compete for an NL Pennant and a World Series?

Kasten: Just in this year, payroll will escalate 40%, which I feel is a pretty healthy year-to-year jump. It will increase even more in time. I’ve rambled on about this in the past… each sport builds teams differently. Baseball’s not basketball. In basketball you draft Shaquille and go to the finals. That’s not baseball. Baseball requires a 25-man team, and that starts with building them yourself through the minor leagues. If you sign one free agent for a huge amount of money, you get one great year for that salary. Whereas if you spent the same amount of money on more minor league teams, more minor league draft picks, more minor league scouts, and more coaches — instead of getting production from one player maybe you develop 10 players. It’s just a much better and better lasting way to proceed. Every team that has had sustained success in the history of baseball has done it through a very vigorous player development program. We have started that here in Washington. We said that on day one. It is instructive that a year ago, the team we inherited was ranked by Baseball America as having the 30th-ranked minor league system, and that’s because there are only 30 teams in baseball.

This year they ranked us at number 9, one of the largest one year jumps in their history. We’re very proud of that. It’s an indication that people on the outside are recognizing what we’re doing, and agreeing with it. I feel great about the long term. But baseball’s not basketball, and it takes a little while to get there.

Me: How much do you pay attention to the sources outside of your organization? You’re talking about Baseball America right now–

Kasten: Bloggers? Not at all.

Me: –I was going to say, how much do you pay attention to bugsandcranks.com?

Kasten: We have people who do, and I read some. I can’t stay on top of them all because there are so many of them. You have to be really careful. It’s a double edged sword. It does keep your name out there, and people are talking about it, and that’s is a good thing in general. Community of fandom — that’s what the internet’s all about, and that’s a good thing.

But there are downsides. Last year, for the first time in my career, I had a chat on the first day of spring training to talk about bloggers. Last year we gave a blogger — as an experiment — a one-day press credential to be treated just like all the press, to interview everyone. It was fine and everything was OK.

But there are other incidents in spring training. One blogger was out there having fun, talking to people, meeting people. Later that night he was in a restaurant where some of our players were, and he’s writing all these experiences down on the web, and having a great time. And then one of our players walks in with what this blogger described as “two hot babes” on his arm, and it was just great… But it wasn’t so great for the player’s wife back home reading this. So I tell the players that those are some of the pitfalls, because when you’re talking to fans, especially in spring training right across the fence… I promise you guys, if you say something bad about Manny or about me, it’s gonna be on a blog or a chat board somewhere within an hour. And you just have to be aware of that, because once it’s there, it gets picked up by the mainstream media.

It’s a brave new world. We know we have to deal with it. I think the Nats are more progressive than most in accommodating those kind of things, but no one quite yet has it figured out the exact right mix of how to treat this. We know it’s there, we are not ignoring it, but we don’t yet know the perfect way to handle all of it.

On his relationship with Tom Glavine after the Schuerholz blow up:

[In Schuerholz’s 2006 book, Built to Win, he revealed that Tom Glavine tried to back out of his deal with the Mets and stay with the Braves. Tom Glavine did not like this. Tom and Schuerholz no longer speak.]

Kasten: I flew to Milwaukee to see Tom Glavine try to win number 300. I did that with Greg Maddux too. I was retried at the time, so I had a bit more free time to follow Greg around the country until he finally won.

I called [Tom] the first day you could talk to free agents and said listen, dude, you gotta go back to the Braves. And he said, “Yeah?”

And if you don’t go back to the Braves, you really should go back to the Mets. He said “Yeah, ok.”

I said, “Because, you’re done man. So, if you go with either of those teams, you’ll bring them both down which is way better for us.”

Tom said, “I wondered where you were going with this. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to call to say anything nice.”

*****

Stan Kasten was, actually, nothing but nice. He gave me shit for writing for a blog more than a couple times. When we first met, my friend who works for the Nationals and arranged Kasten’s visit said, “This is Matt, he’s a blogger.” Stan said, “That’s OK, some of my best friends are bloggers.”

He blames honest agents for the downfall of baseball as we know it. Not the dishonest agents, but the ones who are honest and competent and make up the majority of all agents. Agents are lawyers, and ethical lawyers are not allowed to consider anything except the best interest of their client. They’re not allowed to consider the good of the team, or the health of the sport, or the precedent a contract sets — that is, unless the client does.

He said that he got into a little fight with his friend, Scott Boras because he said that Scott had a rough offseason. Stan said that he used to think of agents as a necessary evil. “Now,” said Stan, “they’re no longer necessary.”

He admitted that they could have done a better job of picking the location for Nationals Park. Stan said that they didn’t get the best location, but the best available location. RFK had a pretty sweet deal with access and parking, but he expects Nationals Park to grow into its niche down on the waterfront.

He doesn’t believe in chemistry or character when building a team, unless those things affect how the players swing the bat and throw the ball. It’s only a problem when it hurts what happens on the field. “Too much is made of chemistry. We’ve seen horrible locker rooms succeed and a team of choir boys fail. It takes talent and a great manager to win.” That explains a whole lot about the Dukes and Milledge deals.

I liked the way he handled the question about blogs. You’ll notice he didn’t blame the blogger for writing what he saw. He put it on the players to watch what they say and do — which they should be doing anyway.

Stan is a great guy to have working for your team. He obviously cares about making the Nationals into the gem of the city. This is next to impossible in the town where the Redskins make the sun rise and set, but he’s gonna do it. I can’t wait to see them in action this year, and years down the road. 37 days until Opening Day!

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2 Responses to “President’s Day”
  1. It’s tough to get anything new out of Stan but this is an excellent recap. We’ve known all along he wouldn’t have done the stadium this way but this is the closest you’ll get to anything negative he’ll say about it. He’s got the right attitude about the bloggers, too. Give him time and he may even love ya.

  2. Nick Kendall says:

    Great interview. I enjoyed it. I wish Reds’ upper management would open their mouths to the public with something other than “we have no news at this time.”

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