Thursday, September 23, 2010, 2:03 PM; Updated 3:56 PM; Updated 5:18 PM
By Mark Zuckerman
Stan Kasten will resign as president of the Washington Nationals at the end of the season, leaving the organization five years after joining with the Lerner family to purchase the franchise from Major League Baseball.
Kasten held back tears both while informing players of his pending departure during a pregame meeting in the Nationals Park clubhouse, and later while speaking to reporters in the first-base dugout.
"Will I miss things? You bet," he said. "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."
Kasten, 58, was a crucial addition to the Lerner family's bid to purchase the Nationals in May 2006, with MLB officials wanting someone with previous experience running a franchise on board. Having spent more than two decades as president of the Atlanta Braves (as well as stints running the NBA's Hawks and NHL's Thrashers) Kasten became the public face of the Nationals' ownership group.
But after four years of dealing with high-profile endeavors including the construction and opening of Nationals Park, and the overhaul of the club's front office after general manager Jim Bowden resigned amid a controversy with Dominican prospects, Kasten had been far less visible this season. Mike Rizzo had taken over full GM duties, and Andrew Feffer had taken over much of the business side of the organization as the club's new chief operating officer.
Kasten insists his departure has less to do with changes in the organization than with his own declaration upon joining the Nationals that he would serve five years.
"It was important that I fulfill my commitment," he said. "But now, for my own personal expectations, goals, aspirations, I think it's just time to be doing something else."
Kasten and members of the Lerner family didn't always see eye-to-eye on matters both on and off the field. Principal owner Mark Lerner was largely responsible for Bowden retaining his job until the Dominican scandal became public in February 2009, even when others in the front office had pushed for his firing at the end of the 2008 season. Kasten also didn't have as much say in financial matters as he hoped upon signing on, according to both club and major-league sources.
"I know the stories and speculation," Kasten said. "Let me assure you, this is just about me. This has nothing to do with anybody else or anything else."
In a printed statement, managing principal owner Ted Lerner praised Kasten as "vital to ownership winning its bid" to buy the team and "critical to building" the franchise.
"We certainly respect his decision to pursue other interests at the end of the regular season, but will continue to call upon him for his vast knowledge of the game, the league and the franchise," Lerner said. "He will remain a friend and valued partner of the team and ownership group."
Kasten will retain his minority stake in ownership but said he wants to work again in professional sports, possibly in baseball (which would require him to sell his share of the Nationals).
"I don't feel likeretiring," he said. "So I'm going to do something. ... I truly haven't decidedanything, committed to anything. I really haven't, and it'll be a while before Ido."
The Nationals haven't announced plans to replace Kasten, though it's possible no one will take on his exact role and title. With Rizzo in charge of baseball operations and Feffer running the business side of the organization underneath the Lerners, the club may not need an all-reaching team president overseeing both aspects.
"He was much more involved than most of the team presidents I've worked with," Rizzo said. "Because he knows the game inside and out. He knows players. He knows personality. And he knows talent. He was very active in our offices. We're going to have to fill a void. I'm going to have to employ the things he taught me to take over and to take on the responsibility. I think that I've been well-trained for it."
Though he can point to accomplishments of building and opening the ballpark, overhauling the front office and restocking the franchise's farm system, Kasten cannot claim on-field success during his tenure. Since he was formally named president on May 3, 2006, the Nationals own a 317-455 record.
Kasten, though, does believe he leaves the organization in better shape than when he arrived, and believes the Nationals are not far from achieving the ultimate measure of success.
"Until we win it all, I don't have any crowningachievements," he said. "I do know that this team finally has a terrific pipeline. We knowthe kids that our system produced this season, you know the kids that they'reabout 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 abaseball operations front office that is as good as can be to produce that onan ongoing basis."