The story of how a summer sojourn led to a World Series ring (and a lot more)
Story by Lisa Allen
Stan Kasten had just graduated from Columbia University Law School and knew he had just one carefree summer left before beginning work as a New York antitrust attorney.
He climbed into his car and drove around the country, watching Major League baseball games.
“I always loved sports,” Kasten said, who grew up in New Jersey. “I was a huge New York Yankees fan.”
Watching the Cardinals in St. Louis that nomadic summer in the late 1970s, Kasten met Ted Turner, then owner of CNN, the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks. “We talked and he hired me to do in-house legal work for him. I followed him back to Atlanta, and the rest is history,” Kasten said.
What did his father, a Holocaust survivor, think of him working for a sports team instead of a white-shoe law firm? “My father was an immigrant and didn’t know anything about sports. He was very disappointed. He thought I was throwing away a perfectly good legal career to go into sports. Eventually he came around, once he saw that I was able to pay my bills.”
In 1979, at age 27, Kasten became the youngest general manager in NBA history with the Hawks.
He became president of both the Hawks and the Braves in 1986. “Ted just kept putting me in charge of his teams,” Kasten said.
Kasten had a Midas touch. The Hawks had a four-year run of 50-win seasons from 1986-89, and seven consecutive playoff appearances in the 1990s. To date, Kasten is the only NBA executive to win back-to back Executive of the Year awards in 1986-87.
As for the Braves, from 1987-2003, the team won more games than any other team in MLB and won 14 consecutive division titles (1991-2005), five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series.
Kasten also is skilled at building stadiums, overseeing the conversion of the 1996 Olympics stadium into Turner Field and the construction Philips Arena in Atlanta.
In 1999, when the NHL awarded Atlanta an expansion team, Kasten added the title of president of the Thrashers, adding yet a third sport. Kasten was president of all three teams until 2003, when he stepped down.
Kasten then became president of the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, from 2006-10, where he rebuilt the team and the fan base. The nation’s capitol hadn’t had a baseball team since the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1960. He managed the construction of Nationals Park, too.
In 2012 he joined Magic Johnson, Peter Guber and Guggenheim Baseball Management to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.1 billion. You guessed it: He serves as president.
He said there isn’t much difference between sports fans on the East Coast, the West Coast or Atlanta. “Well, I take that back. Dodgers fans are very loyal. There is such a long history of success there,” he said.
GOOD SPORTS Stan Kasten is shown with Magic Johnson, announcing the new ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers; speaking at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles; and celebrating with John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox after the Braves won the 1995 World Series.
Of course, he’s not sure how they would react to a losing season. “I wouldn’t know. It hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”
“Every sport is different. Putting teams together is different. But for the fans, they’re looking for a good experience, good value and a good product.”
Despite his success, Kasten tries to keep a low profile. He and his wife, Helen, have been married for more than 40 years and have four children and several grandchildren.
He jokes, “I wish people knew less about me. Everyone seems to have my phone number and email.”
And he welcomes the compliments and the complaints. It’s all part of the job.
His latest challenge, of course, is the pandemic.
The Dodgers are back on the field and off to a strong start, but they play to empty stadiums. Kasten is very eager for the sports world to return to pre-COVID normal.
“We had a good thing going, and we made continuous improvements,” he said. “I hope sports don’t change. But we’ve all learned how to make do. We’re overcoming hurdles. We’re changing the way we reach out, the way we connect.”
In the meantime, he’s working from home in either LA or Atlanta. To relax, he works out, watches movies and, yes, watches sports.
“I’m always studying sports business models.”
And to be sure, others study his.
A Lowcountry connection
For decades, the Kasten family has enjoyed Hilton Head Island. They currently have a home in Palmetto Dunes.
“It’s so nice to have a world-class resort so close to Atlanta,” Kasten said. “It’s less than a five-hour drive. Hilton Head has it all. It has the ocean, great golf, excellent tennis, really good restaurants, and everything is accessible and easy to get to.”
While Kasten spends most of his time in Los Angeles, his family remains in Atlanta.
“Atlanta is home,” he said. And that means Hilton Head will remain the Kastens’ home away from home.
Unfortunately, the Kastens didn’t get a chance to visit Ted Turner on St. Phillips Island before Turner sold it to South Carolina. The rustic barrier island is now part of the wildly popular Hunting Island State Park and accessible by ferry.
“Ted invited us, but we never made it there.”