Stan Kasten

This article was written by Bob Webster

Stan Kasten (ATLANTA BRAVES)For over four decades, Stan Kasten has been a highly respected sports figure who developed a reputation for creating winning franchises by relying on three pillars – scouting and player development, enhancing the fan experience, and community outreach – to establish franchises built for long-term success on and off the field.1  

This strategy has apparently worked. With Kasten as team president, the Atlanta Braves won the National League division title for 12 consecutive years from 1991 through 2003, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season. During this time, the Braves average attendance was 37,794. The NBA Atlanta Hawks won 50 or more games in four consecutive seasons during the late 1980s and made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons with Kasten as president in the ’90s.2 Since he took over as the Los Angeles Dodgers president and CEO in April 2012, the Dodgers have finished in first place in the NL West and advanced to postseason play seven consecutive years beginning with 2013 while leading the major leagues in attendance in each of those years.

Stanley H. Kasten was born in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, on February 1, 1952, to Nathan and Sylvia Kasten.3 Kasten, his younger brother, Mitchell, and his younger sister, Mimi, were raised about 100 miles north of Lakewood Township in Farmingdale, New Jersey. Kasten grew up in a world of Holocaust survivors, including his Polish parents.4 “My dad spent World War II in camps and my mother was on the run,” said Kasten, adding that the couple met in a displaced persons camp in 1946, came to the United States in 1949, and married in 1950, two years before Stan was born.5 “I grew up with Jewish study from grade school to high school,” he recalled. “It was wall-to-wall, 24-7.” Kasten decided in high school to commit to an Orthodox lifestyle, even though his parents were less observant.6 Kasten attended the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, then graduated from the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in 1969.7

At the age of 19 in 1939, Nathan Kasten was taken from his home in Poland during the Holocaust and given a death sentence that he was able to avoid because of his age and his strength. He was moved from prison camp to prison camp because he was strong enough to shovel the dead bodies into the ovens or pile them into giant graves. After many terrifying experiences in his five years in prison camps, Nathan was sent to a displaced persons camp where he spent two years before finding his way to America, but not before meeting his future wife, Sylvia, who survived a prison camp in Poland by posing as a Gentile. All 53 of Nathan Kasten’s living relatives were killed in the camps.8 Sylvia’s family met the same demise. Thirty close family members, including her two brothers and four of her seven sisters, were also murdered during the Holocaust, not because of anything they had done, but because they were born Jewish.9 After Nathan Kasten was finally out of the camps, he was confronted by a German soldier taunting him with Holocaust photos. Kasten pummeled the soldier and took the photos, which he has shown his children to remind them of their great fortune.10 Sylvia Kasten, Stan’s mother, said her children were not constantly reminded of the Holocaust experience, although she noted, “My children know where we come from.”11

Nathan and Sylvia moved to America where they knew nobody, didn’t speak the language, and had nothing. Upon arriving in America, Nathan became a tailor and they raised their three children on a chicken farm that they eventually turned into a hotel-restaurant in Farmingdale. There is an interesting story about how they transitioned from a chicken farm to a hotel-restaurant. There was an amusement park behind the chicken coop. Stan Kasten recalled, “They had rodeos and simulated Indian raids, and at 4 o’clock the bad guy would get shot. The constant sound of gunfire drove the chickens nuts and they literally had heart attacks, thousands of them.” Nathan Kasten received money as settlement from the amusement park and remodeled the chicken coop into a motel and built a family restaurant (The Charcoal Flame) next door.12

It was at the hotel-restaurant that Stan learned a valuable lesson. One afternoon he was walking across the parking lot from the motel to the restaurant when a trash can blew over behind him, scattering garbage everywhere. Stan saw it, but just kept walking. His father saw this from a restaurant window and when Stan came through the door, his father jumped all over him. Kasten recalled: “He looked at me and said, ‘You are the laziest thing I have ever seen.’ That never left me. That stuck with me forever. I am a fundamentally lazy person, but I combat it every day when I think about the trash can,” said Kasten.13

That was not the most important lesson Stan learned as a child. The lesson learned in their household from his parents’ prison camp experience was the insanity of discrimination. “It’s a mental illness. It’s a disease,” said Kasten.14

Kasten loved baseball, but his parents didn’t understand it. Since Stan loved it, they let him play. Nathan never went to one of his youth-league games. “After all they had been through, they just wanted us to be happy and productive,” said Stan’s sister, Mimi Werbler.15

“My father’s life taught me that you can never forget how incredibly lucky you are to live in a country where you can be whatever you want to be,” Kasten said. “How I live my life is built on that belief.”16  

“The best man I ever met”? Kasten said. “My father was also the best role model I’ve ever met.”17

Nathan died from complications of diabetes in 1996 at age 75 and Stan’s mother, Sylvia, died in 2009.18

Kasten earned a degree in psychology from New York University in 1973 and a law degree from Columbia University in 1976.

In 1977 Kasten married Helen Weisz. They met while attending the same Jewish day school and they attended the same temple in New Jersey. Their parents traveled similar paths. Helen’s father was from Hungary and survived Nazi concentration camps, and her mother, a Pole, escaped by hiding.19 The Kastens have four children; Alana, Corey, Sherry, and Jay.20

After law school, Kasten and his wife were touring ballparks across the country when he met Ted Turner. Kasten spotted Turner leaving Busch Stadium in St. Louis after a Braves-Cardinals game. “I meet a lot of people and most of them ask me for jobs,” Turner recalled. “Stan said that he’d work for nothing. That was an offer even I couldn’t refuse.”21 Kasten said, “I liked him, he liked me and so he gave me a job as legal counsel” in Turner’s sports empire.22

In that capacity, Kasten went to work for Turner in 1977 with Turner’s Atlanta Hawks NBA franchise. In 1979, at age 27, Kasten became the youngest general manager in NBA history when he was promoted to that position. On September 2, 1982, Kasten traded John Drew and Freeman Williams to the Utah Jazz for Dominic Wilkins, before Wilkins ever played an NBA game.23 Kasten built his team around the nine-time All-Star and the Hawks became a perennial contender, with four consecutive 50-victory seasons and seven consecutive playoff appearances in the 1990s. In addition to being the general manager, Kasten took on the role of team president in 1986 and became the first NBA executive to win back-to-back Executive of the Year awards, in 1986 and 1987.24

In 1986 Kasten also became president of the Braves. In an interview at the SABR Analytics Conference in March 2013, in Phoenix, Arizona, Kasten explained how that happened: “By the time Ted asked me to take over the team, we were a last-place team with the highest payroll in baseball. Which is almost hard to do if you’re trying to do it on purpose! That’s a bad situation. I didn’t want to do it … Ted said, ‘Do it in addition to the Hawks. You’ll be the only guy running two teams.’ I said, ‘Ted, that’s such a bad idea.’ But Ted had and I had an understanding, when we disagreed on something, we just did things his way. And that’s how I took over.”25

The mounting pressure of trying to win 244 regular-season games a year (162 for the Braves and 82 for the Hawks) was immense. Kasten had six television sets at home and his wife once said, “He’s waiting for a TV to come out that has four different screens at the same time.”26 The double duties took some getting used to. Kasten’s secretary once typed a Braves-related letter on Hawks stationery, so Kasten taped a reminder on her typewriter: “Is what I’m about to type Hawks or Braves?”27

After the 1985 season, former Braves manager Bobby Cox returned to Atlanta as the general manager. After a few lean years of finishing in last place or next to last, in the summer of 1990 Kasten mentioned to John Schuerholz, then the GM in Kansas City, that he planned to move Cox back to the dugout and bring in a new GM. He asked Schuerholz if he had any suggestions for a new GM. Schuerholz told Kasten that he was interested. In October of that year, Schuerholz became the new GM of the Braves and Kasten gave him and Cox full authority over baseball decisions.

By 1990 the Braves had a trio of outstanding young pitchers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery. After winning 65 games in 1990, the Braves won 94 in 1991 and finished in first place in the NL East. Great defense played a huge part in their success, helping the three young pitchers have outstanding years. Glavine won 20 games, Avery won 18, and Smoltz won 14. Veteran Charlie Leibrandt provided 15 wins. The Braves defeated the Pirates in the NLCS but lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games in the World Series.

From 1991 through 2003, with Kasten as president, Schuerholz as general manager, and Cox as manager, the Braves won 12 consecutive division titles (excluding the 1994 strike year), five National League pennants, and the 1995 World Series.28

In addition to running an NBA and an MLB team, Kasten was involved in a few remodels and construction of sports facilities. He helped get a deal worked out with the Atlanta Olympic Committee to convert the Olympic Stadium to a major-league ballpark to be called Turner Field. The Braves played their final game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1996 and moved into Turner Field in 1997. Kasten was also in charge of the construction of Philips Arena, the new home of the Atlanta Hawks and the new NHL Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. Kasten became president of the Thrashers, making him the only person who was president of three sports teams at once. He held all three positions until 2003, when the Hawks and Thrashers were sold.29

The Montreal Expos relocated to Washington to become the Nationals after the 2005 season. Major League Baseball, which owned the team during the relocation, sold it to a group led by Washington area real-estate developer Ted Lerner and including Kasten. Kasten became the public face of the group and announced that the focus of the team would be pitching and developing young players.30

The Nationals finished in or near last place in the NL East during their first few seasons and struggled to be competitive. The Nationals’ struggles and the owners’ reluctance to spend for top-notch free agents while waiting for the young players to develop may have been high on Kasten’s list of reasons to leave the Nationals after the 2010 season.31

Kasten became part of the Guggenheim Baseball Management Team, which bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt in 2012. Kasten became the club’s president and CEO. The ownership group also included Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners, and ex-NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson.32

Under Kasten’s oversight, the Dodgers have won the NL West championship every year through 2019 while leading the major leagues in attendance each year. The Dodgers have also maintained one of the top-rated farm systems. In 2017 they were named Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.33

Kasten acquired a reputation as a builder. Besides getting a deal worked out with the Atlanta Olympic organizing committee to convert the Olympic facility to Turner Field34 and to oversee the construction of Philips Arena, as president of the Washington Nationals, Kasten oversaw the construction of Nationals Park.

Kasten led a remodel of Dodger Stadium in time for the 2014 season and a $100 million renovation that was to be ready in time for the 2020 season, when the Dodgers were to host the All-Star Game.35

Kasten has been on numerous MLB, NBA, and NHL ownership committees, including NBA committees on marketing, player pensions, and expansion, and the NBA Board of Governors, the MLB owners’ negotiating committee, and the NHL’s Board of Governors and its executive committee. He is a former trustee of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.36 Kasten, the Los Angeles Sports Council’s 2013 Executive of the Year, is on the board of directors for the LA84 Foundation as well as LA2028, the group organizing the 2028 LA Olympics and Paralympic Games.37

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com. 

 

Notes

1 mlb.com/dodgers/team/front-office/stan-kasten.

2 basketball-reference.com/executives/kastest99x.html.

3 jewishvirtuallibrary.org/stan-kasten.

4 Bill Plaschke, “Dodgers’ Stan Kasten Shaped by His Father’s Unforgettable Lessons,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2013. latimes.com/sports/la-xpm-2013-jun-15-la-sp-0616-plaschke-20130616-story.html.

5 Robert Nebel, “Stan the Man,” Atlanta Jewish Life Magazine, Fall 2001; bobnebel.tripod.com/kastenprofile.html.

6 Nebel.

7 jewishvirtuallibrary.org/stan-kasten.

8 Plaschke.

9 Gary Pomerantz, “I Told Ted I Didn’t Think It Could Be Done,” Atlanta Constitution, February 19, 1989: 18C.

10 Plaschke.

11 Pomerantz.

12 Pomerantz.

13 Plaschke.

14 Plaschke.

15 Plaschke.

16 Plaschke.

17 Plaschke.

18 Plaschke.

19 Pomerantz.

20 I.J. Rosenberg, “Whatever Happened to … Stan Kasten,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 19, 1989, ajc.com/sports/whatever-happened-stan-kasten/kQw9QVZIiGsT3f1OkR1DrI/.

21 Rosenberg.

22 Pomerantz.

23 basketball-reference.com/executives/kastest99x.html.

24 basketball-reference.com/executives/kastest99x.html.

25 sabr.org/latest/2013-sabr-analytics-highlights-stan-kasten.

26 Pomerantz.

27 Pomerantz.

28 sloansportsconference.com/people/stan-kasten/.

29 Nebel.

30 Jim Lovino, “Stan Kasten Says Goodbye to Nats,” NBCWashington, September 23, 2010, nbcwashington.com/news/sports/stan-kasten-says-goodbye-to-nats/1839492/.

31 Lovino.

32 si.com/mlb/2017/10/31/who-owns-los-angeles-dodgers.

33 mlb.com/dodgers/team/front-office/stan-kasten.

34 Rosenberg.

35 Bill Plunkett, “Dodger Stadium to Undergo $100-Million Renovation During Offseason,” Orange County Register (Anaheim, California), July 23, 2019. ocregister.com/2019/07/23/dodgers-announce-100m-plan-for-major-stadium-renovations/.

36 sloansportsconference.com/people/stan-kasten/.

37 mlb.com/dodgers/team/front-office/stan-kasten.

Full Name

Stanley H. Kasten

Born

February 1, 1952 at Lakewood Township, NJ (US)

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