Kasten resigning as Nationals’ team president

Stan Kasten, the Nationals’ team president since the Lerner family bought the team in 2006, announced his resignation from that role today, effective at the end of the season. Kasten said he had committed to stay with the team for five years, and told the Lerners about a year ago that he would not continue beyond that commitment.

Kasten talked with reporters for about 20 minutes today. The session was vintage Kasten, who traded stories, memories, no-comments and jabs with the media. He was nostalgic about leaving the team, choking up when talking about how much he will miss living in the District and working with the Nationals’ players. But he also sounded like a man who’d had his fill of his job with the Nationals. Kasten did not discuss his future plans, saying he might do so at the end of the year. But his name has been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays in the past, and he’s also been mentioned as possible successor to commissioner Bud Selig.

Here is the start of Kasten’s remarks to the media today. This will grow as I get more of it transcribed, so check back for that.

Stan Kasten
Professional media advisors, some of whom are my best friends, will often tell me what you don’t want to do with the media is let them back you into a corner. I’m not controlling your space. I need the wall because I do not trust (Mike) Rizzo to be behind me with a shaving cream pie, so I wasn’t going to take that chance.

(Rizzo: It will be a whipped cream pie, and it will happen. Kasten: I really thought today might have been that day.)

So what I’m here to tell you is, when I came here, when my group joined the Lerner group, I made a commitment to stay with them for five years, through the end of the 2010 season. About a year or so ago, I went to the family and told them I would not be staying beyond that five-year commitment. So what I’m here to tell you today is, I’ll be leaving the Nats at the end of the season.

I know the stories and speculation. Let me assure you, this is just about me. This has nothing to do with anybody else or anything else. This is just about me, what’s good for me, for my family and my own personal expectations, goals, aspirations, purely that and nothing else. Leaving here, will I miss things? You bet. There’s going to be so much that I miss.

First of all, I love, love, love D.C. I love living here, I love working here. I love the unique circumstances and energy that make this the most important city in the world. The people that I’ve met here along the way have been exceptional. I couldn’t have gone anywhere else and had experiences to me and for me here that I could have never had happen anywhere else. It’s been so much fun, and I will continue to spend a lot of time here, because I do love D.C. that much.

In addition, I have so much personal affection for everyone that’s been associated with the franchise, starting with the Lerner family, every member of whom I have a great, close relationship with, to our other partners, who have been so supportive, to our great, hard-working, dedicated front office, led by Mike. Really talented people, who are doing a good job with a lot more success to come. Our scouts, coaches, here in Washington and around the country and the world, all great, dedicated baseball people. And then the players, who I love, as you know. I’m a player’s guy. In fact, I was choking up a little when I was talking to the players - which is why I brought the sunglasses. I couldn’t do that with you guys. And then, of course, the fans, who have been so great to me. I interact with them every night. I walk the concourses, as you know, for every game. I want to thank them for their generosity in offering advice and help. It’s appreciated, especially when you’re a guy running a team that’s lost as much as we have, that’s been in the phase of building that we’ve been in. I get lots of critical advice, but it’s all been appreciated, and I’m going to keep doing it for the rest of the season, because we still have a bunch of games yet to go.

So will I miss things? You bet. Leaving here is going to be hard. But still, the decision to leave here was not hard. It was just the right thing for me to do.

Now, I wanted to do my best to keep this low-key, which is why I did it this way. I’m not having a press conference. I’m not going to do any more interviews on this subject. I’m not talking to radio. I’m not talking to TV. I want our focus to get back to the games right away, which is what we should be doing. This is still an important time in our season. The games matter because of the standings, but it also matters because of the glimpses we get of the players who are going to play expanded roles this season and beyond. I don’t want to talk about this anymore until the season’s over. And when the season’s over, I probably will sit down with you all, do a longer interview and answer some more questions that I wouldn’t answer today. But for now, I’d like to get back to the games.

What shape is this franchise in? “You know I feel great about how far we’ve come and the platform we now sit on for the future. I’m going to go into a lot more detail on that after the season’s over. I think now is not the time for that global assessment. ... But I will say briefly, I think we are poised to really take off. I think we have ownership that is ready to take the next step. We talk a lot about it privately, and I have a high level of confidence that’s going to happen.”

Why now? “We talked about announcing it a year ago. We talked about announcing it at the All-Star Game. After we signed Bryce Harper. I don’t have a good answer. Whatever day I would have done it, we would have had the same questions. We felt it wouldn’t be right to end the season and then just leave. So I wanted to give you guys a little bit of notice. There wasn’t a lot of science that went into this.”

Why leave now? “I made a commitment here. It was really important that I fulfill that commitment. Commitments are important to me. I expect others to honor their commitments and I expect it of myself. So it was important that I fulfill my commitment. But now, for my own personal expectations, goals, aspirations, I think it’s just time to be doing something else.”

How much did decision weigh on you? “I’ve known about it. I’ve been a fortunate guy in waking up every day in a place I love doing a thing I love. So I can’t say it’s been weighing on me. There are plenty of people who knew about this throughout the game. So from time to time, that issue would come up. I can’t say it weighed on me. We knew this day would come. It’s a sentimental, melancholy day, especially as I was talking to the players.”

Lerners try to change your mind? “I’ve had a great relationship with the Lerners. We had really good talks. BUt at the end it was clear this was what I wanted to do. They have been great. Yes, they would have been really happy for me to stay. But this is the right thing. This is just about me. It’s not about anything else or anybody else. I really hope, if nothing else, you take that message.”

Keep ownership stake? “Is that really something you guys need to know? I don’t know yet. I do know if the day ever comes that I’m involved with another baseball team, I couldn’t do that. So it’s a little early. But I also don’t know why you need to know that.”

Stay in baseball? “I love baseball, as you know. Again, those are the kind of questions I’ll feel more comfortable answering when the season’s over.”

Plan in place for succession? “I don’t know. That you’re going to need to talk to the Lerners.”

Harder than you thought?
It’s not easy, ever, to build a championship team. As good as you might be, as many resources as you have, as good a staff as you have, you’re competing against 29 other groups of really, hard-working, smart, talented determined individuals. That always makes it hard. We put ourselves on a track. We continue on a real positive path. I think the future is exceptionally bright. I really, really do.

Have you succeeded?
I feel like we accomplish sometimes that were important to accomplish. We don’t need to rehash it. Again, I’d much rather rehash it again when the season is over. I think that’s an appropriate line of questioning. For today, I really don’t want to get into that. That’s a fair a question.

I want you all to think of me as, ‘When he talked, he was really good. When he wanted to keep a secret, he was really good.’ For today, I’m just not going to talk about those other things.

Spend time here?
I’m going to spend a lot of time here. I love D.C. I’ve talked to some city officials today. I left a message with Adrian. I left a message with Vince. Kwame. All three of whom I consider friends, and whom I hope all three consider me friends. Anything I could to continue to play a role in doing good things for the city, I’d be thrilled to.

Less to do day-to-day?
No, no, no. This remains always as a big job. As I told you, there are always 29 other teams. And the most successful team needs the best people they can, because they want to do it again. So, no, there’s always plenty to do. Even after you do win, the fire to repeat burns even brighter. So, no, I wouldn’t agree with that. There’s still plenty to do. I always think of the lifespan of building something in three phases. There’s constructing, there’s competing, there’s contending. I really think we’ve come through the constructing. Now we’re on the cusp of really competing. The line from constructing to competing is really long. It’s a big difference and a big distance. The distance from competing to contending can be very short. A couple of key moves can make that change. I think that’s where we are, on the cusp.

Would you return to the NBA?
I really shouldn’t talk about next stuff, yet. I might not even in two weeks. There are things I just don’t want to talk about yet. But you can ask me in two weeks.

Crowing achievement?
Listen, until we win it all, I don’t have any crowing achievements. I do know that this team finally has a terrific pipeline. You know the kids our system produced this season. You the kids that they’re about to produce the next season, the season after that, the season after and the season after that. Nothing good happens after that. We finally have that. We finally have a baseball operations front office that is as good as can be to produce that on an ongoing basis. Those are the two most important things on that side. On the business side, we’ve got a glorious, magnificent stadium with a spectacular game experience. No matter what the score that night, you have a good time when you come to Nationals Park. That’s what’s most important.

What do you consider your crowning achievement...
Listen, until we win it all I don’t have any crowning achievements. I do know that this team finally has a terrific pipeline. We know the kids that our system produced this season, you know the kids that they’re about to produce next season and the season after and the season after that. Nothing good happens without that. We finally have that. And we have finally a baseball operations front office that is as good as can be to produce that on an ongoing basis. Those are the most important things on that side of the ledger. On the business side, we’ve got a glorious magnificent stadium with a spectacular in game experience. No matter what the score that night you have a good time when you come to Nationals Park. And that’s what most important.

Are you confident this can still be a great baseball town...
No question about it. No question about it. This is a big market both in size, an enormous market in terms of wealth and demographics to succeed with a venue that really relates well across all demographics, very versatile. When the product - listen, we had 1.8 million people come to watch a team that’s losing 95 to 105 games a year. That extraordinary support for a team that hasn’t earned it yet. And so when it does earn it, when we get our job done, as I always say, we’re going to have great support. I’ve never backed away from ‘We get the attendance we deserve.’ I got to tell you, we probably over-indexed in the last couple of years and that’s a really good. Sign. I’ll also say this. This year we had a drop-off in season tickets. The number doesn’t matter. But we’re still going to match last year’s attendance. You know why? Because people bought tickets over the course of the year. Yeah, some were Strasburg. A much smaller number than any of you guessed. But they were buying because they’re finally sensing that this is turning around and getting on the bandwagon. We’re going to be at last year’s attendance even with a significant season-ticket drop. That’s the most positive sign because that does not happen. If you have a season-ticket drop you’re going to have an attendance drop. That didn’t happen. Fans came out. Fans made up that gap because they are sensing all the good that’s happening.

Is the message you want to send that there’s nothing as far as the commitment to the organization financially by ownership...
All of those things bother me when I read it. Like I said, it’s about one thing. What I want to do, what’s good to do, what’s good for my family. Period. And there’s a lot out there. I don’t want to talk about anything today. But that’s really it. Now, as far as you guys are concerned there’s no difference because to most of you guys I was just a voice on the phone anyway. You’re still going to reach me. In fact, I may be a little freer with my opinions now. I don’t have to be quite as circumspect as I customarily end. And I’ll tell you a funny story there - and my buddy is shaking his head - when I left the last time, when I retired the last time, this is like October ‘03 right at the beginning of the hockey lockout. And I had been involved. I had been on the executive committee preparing for that negotiation, was involved in that negotiation. And then I left. I talked to Gary Bettman - Gary is one of my closest friends - and he said to me ‘Jesus, the thought of Stan Kasten no longer shackled is just like putting a loaded gun in somebody’s hands. And so shortly thereafter I started doing that. I went to Toronto, did a lot of that. And if you think people are rabid about football in this town go to Canada when they ‘re not having their hockey. It was really interesting. So I did a lot of media there, lockout commentary, which is how my name is known in that market. It’s weird how you’re name gets known in places. But I did that. I did an op-ed in the New York Times. So god knows what my opinions might be. So I think it’s wise for you to keep my phone number because I promise you I will answer it as much or as little as I have in the past.

Fair to say you’re not retiring...
You know, last time I thought I might retire. I really didn’t know if I’d ever do this again. And who knows? These jobs are precious and rare. So I can’t know that I’ll ever do this again. But this time my mind is ‘You know what, I don’t feel like retiring.’ So I’m going to do something. I don’t think you’ll lose track of me. But there’s nothing I want to talk about today. I truly haven’t decided anything, committed to anything. I really haven’t and it’ll be a while before I do, really.

Any concerns about the stability of the organization after losing a team president
There’s this ‘The king is dead, long live the king.’ The franchise is strong and going to go on, Really strong ownership. As I said, a great apparatus now in place on the baseball side as well as the business side. So I wouldn’t concern myself with it. I’m not concerned about it.