Saturday, August 23, 2008
Our Conversation With Stan Kasten
When Ryan Zimmerman socked out that game winning homer against The Atlanta Braves on March 30th at New Nationals Park, not many watching that crisp cool night believed Our Number 11's Walk Off would be one of the few high level marks for Our Washington Nationals in 2008. No one could have predicted all the injuries to come. No one would have guessed the struggles Washington's Home Team would suffer through all year. So much hope for New Nationals Park after Game One. Momentum lost as the schedule now reaches Game 130.
Wanting to find out where Our Washington Nationals stand as this long season nears its end--we reached out to Team President Stan Kasten to see if he might be available to chat about the 2008 Season. As always, he readily agreed. Originally, we were scheduled to meet around The All-Star Break, but conflicting schedules made that meet not possible until this past Wednesday, August 20th at 10AM. Sohna and I met with Mr. Kasten in his office at 1500 South Capitol Street, SE. The Team Offices adjacent to New Nationals Park.
For nearly one hour--Sohna and I sat and discussed all things Nationals with Our Team President. What was not on the table for discussion were 2009 Lineups, Rosters and Coaching Decisions. "I don't talk about the 2009 Roster while we are still in the middle of the 2008 Season," Mr. Kasten said. And as always, specific details about possible transactions or moves the team might be considering--were also not a part of this conversation.
With those as the ground rules, there were a whole range of other topics open for discussion. So much so, this conversation will be in three parts. Today and tomorrow (in Part Two)--the commentary will surround Our Washington Nationals on the field of play. Monday, in Part Three--this chat will move to off the off field interests: Ballpark changes, Concessions, Advertising, etc--the Customer and Fan Experience at New Nationals Park.
Reminder, this chat took place the morning after Our Washington Nationals had just lost their 11th Game In A Row.
With that, here we go with Our Conversation With Stan Kasten.
Can you describe this season? (SBF)
“Very frustrating. I can tell you, if you have been doing this as long as I have, I have had seasons like this in the past. They are never fun. Again, it’s easier, truly it’s easier for me than it is for fans, because I have been through it and I do understand the bigger picture—which I always focus on. On the other hand, it is also more painful for me than fans because—I NEED TO WIN. I WANT TO WIN—quicker than anybody, quicker than any of our fans do. So, while the big picture gives me a comfort, it does not make any individual day any easier. I have never been able to sleep after a loss, consequently, I have had 11 rough days.”
Has anything gone wrong, or is this just part of the rebuilding process? (SBF)
“Some of it is (rebuilding). But let’s face it. Anyone that observes this will look at some of the lineups we’ve put out there over these last few months and acknowledge that there was no way we were anticipating fielding those kind of lineups. That was not anyone’s plan to field the lineups we’ve seen sometimes this year. And there is no point reviewing why that is—what has happened to us during the year. But again, there is nothing big picture wise that concerns me, but the little picture—the day to day—has just been very painful.”
I ran into you one night here in The Stars & Stripes Club and said “How you doing?” and you responded: “This is the most trying part.” (SBF)
“Well, it is, because as I have said, I have had 100 loss seasons before. I may have one again, this year, maybe not—hope not. I have had tough years in hockey and basketball. I have. And as long as you are on the right course, which I believe we are, to making the right decisions, I do know you get over it quickly once you turn the corner. That is a comfort. But it doesn’t make today any easier.”
Do you feel you have lost any momentum from the fan base? (SBF)
“Actually, that’s kind of the most amazing thing that I have been talking about. All through this (rough season), our attendance keeps rising. It’s an AMAZING PHENOMENON. This past week, we went over the 30,000 average mark in attendance. All through our travails, it re-enforces what I believed when I first got here—the fan base here has the potential to be enormous and steadfast—like we’ve seen with other teams here. And when we get OUR JOB DONE, with respect to the team on the field, this is going to be huge (smiling). I’ve always felt that. I have always told you that when I came and what’s happened this summer has re-enforced my belief in that. The Fans have been Fantastic.”
There has been some talk from season ticket holders of not renewing their tickets. Will there be a concerted effort to retain them? (The African Queen)
“Well, of course there is. There will be. Surely, we want to keep everyone. Every team has a shakeout in year two of anything. It happened in RFK (in 2006). It wouldn’t surprise me if it happened again here (for 2009). It happens in every other market. So, I don’t know exactly what to predict for next year, but I feel very strongly that we get whatever attendance we deserve. I never worry about high attendance levels. We get what we deserve. Fans have shown they will do their job (purchase tickets). They will do their job, if we first do our job (field a competitive team). So, I don’t worry about it. As I’ve said, they (Fans) have responded above and beyond expectations. I am not worried about Fans. They will do their job. I worry about us first getting our job done.”
Sohna and I talk about this a lot, and you are aware of --the folks that dislike a lot of the movement in the team. In your time in professional sports, do you find the criticism here harsher than elsewhere? (SBF)
“No, not at all. I find the criticisms here not harsh. You know we have had this discussion before. I have a couple of things I say about that. I remind everyone the immortal words of Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone (The Godfather) in that hotel in Havana: ‘This is the life we chose, criticism comes with it.’ I also tell people I have been in this exact same spot before. What I have learned from years is that they (critics) have invented no new insults (chuckling). I have been called everything before (Sohna laughing) and there will be times when I am called it again. You know, all I can do is the best job I can. So again, big picture wise, it’s been a very positive year, below Washington, below the Major League Team in our system. Even though we have had some key injuries down there too, it’s no where near as many as we have had up here.”
“So, I don’t like criticism, particularly I am disappointed when it turns personal and you see that from time to time. More so because of the Internet, but not more here than in other cities. I disagree with that premise. The criticism is much milder here than in other cities.”
There was this report out the other day from Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports and he stated sources claiming that The Nationals always make excuses and therefore are a poorly managed team. (SBF)
“OK, well that again is no new insult. I have heard that before in my career. I have heard that about people in other cities, and in my other cities, and I think the people who said that always wind up looking foolish.”
You mentioned injuries, a whole bunch of them. Have you ever experienced anything like this before in your career? (SBF)
“I have never experienced every single member of your Opening Day Lineup going out for an extended period of time. I don’t think that has ever been done before. HOORAY!! (Joking). No, I never have.”
Then are you worried about the medical staff being questioned for their diagnosis of injuries? (SBF)
“I have heard that question. I have my own questions. We are going to look into all the appropriate questions to find the right answers. But sure, I understand those questions being asked.”
A lot of times, the team has gone a week or two with a player or players injured but not put on the Disabled List—is that not unusual? (SBF)
“It is unusual, it’s never intentional. We always try to rush guys up to fill out the roster, but we have guys that look like they have two or three day injuries—then end up being out a week—and then they linger into an injured list placement. That’s frustrating and we have had more of that than we have seen before. I am not sure why, and I am not happy about it. There is no reason to play short so much. It shouldn’t happen and we need to figure out why that has happened.”
Why is it when someone is hurting we hear Day-To-Day and the next day they are gone for an extended period? (The African Queen)
“Sohna, all I can tell you is that I am told Day-To-Day. I am not hiding anything. I am told the same things and I have the same questions.”
I cringe when I hear Day-To-Day. (The African Queen)
“I know. I hear you. Jesus Flores was Day-To-Day on Sunday and he was back in the lineup last night (Tuesday). I think we have an ethic in all sports about not missing games and going out there and playing hurt. But I think everyone’s first reaction is to minimize the severity and length of an injury—no matter how badly hurt they are. I think we always try, that’s the first instinct, to see how it is in a day or two. Well for that day or two until you are finally figuring out the diagnosis--to be sure. So, that is part of the reason, but still in all, we have had more than our share of those situations which require some answers.”
Which always makes me wonder whether someone, say Chad Cordero, was really hurt and tried to play through it—to his detriment? (SBF)
“I think that happened. Wily Mo (Pena) did the same thing. And in retrospect, I know they were trying to help themselves and the team. It wound up not doing either any good. We can’t tell a guy he is hurt, when he is claiming he is not hurt, that’s the other side of that. But we never tell a guy to go out there to play when we know they are hurt. You just can’t do that.”
Of all the things that have happened this year, the one thing that really bothered me was how Chad Cordero was treated when he was publicly chastised and non-tendered. (SBF)
“Yes, I know. I was actually on vacation when that happened. And I talked to Jim (Bowden) when I saw it. Jim felt bad about the circumstances of how that happened. You know he did apologize. Jim felt bad about that too.”
The Baseball Decision is sound, the way it was announced was not. (SBF)
“I think Jim would agree with you on that and did so by apologizing. And I have since talked to Chad myself. I don’t think there is any lingering issue with Chad. But, I can’t disagree with you on this.”
How is Nick Johnson doing? (The African Queen)
“You would have to talk to Jim on that. Nick is out for the year, obviously, or presumably out for the year. Chad is out for the year. Shawn Hill is going to, I think, attempt to come back around the first of September.”
Wily Mo? (The African Queen)
“Wily Mo I think is gone for this season. Elijah (Dukes) should make a re-hab start within the week, same with (Alberto) Gonzalez. And Dmitri, I think within a week, should be able to start. In fact, I had a good report about Dmitri yesterday, in both his weight and his diabetes. If that has found the appropriate level, and he can get back out on the field--that would be a good thing. For all the criticism he endured, he was still like our most reliable hitter. Even in the 50 Games he played this year, he still gets on base, like 40% of the time. And on this team, this year, that would have been, really valuable.”
Going back to Chad Cordero and the non-tender incident. Does it bother you that an impression might have gone out to other players around the league that if they decided to come here, the team might not take care of them? (SBF)
“It would worry me if that were a constant thing. No one can say that’s the way we treat people. That’s why it was an anomaly. So, I am not worried about that.”
Although you have said you don’t want to talk about the 2009 Roster, what about Free Agency, is this something you might consider this off-season? (SBF)
“I expect to get better and if it’s free agency, trades, or international signings, we just have to get better and I don’t think YOU CARE if the players we get are through free agency, nor should you care. You shouldn’t accept excuses, you shouldn’t care how we do it. You should just demand that we do it (get better on the field). Like what I always say about payroll. You don’t care about what we pay these guys—you just want the team to be good. So, yeah, I am not ever going to rule anything out.”
“Big Free Agents, Small Free Agents, this year we had a need, a short term need we thought. We filled that short-term need with Paul LoDuca who went off and got hurt. The way that was suppose to work was Paul was suppose to be our starter—for at least a half a season—if not the whole season—while we moved Jesus (Flores) in. If he had not gotten hurt, that’s how it would have worked out. So, we did go into the Free Agent Market when we had that particular need. I like building internally, but you can’t get it done by just building internally—I know that. I know that. Mainly, we need to get good and we can’t use any excuses for doing it one way over another way.”
That’s why I don’t buy the argument, by some, that you need to have a high payroll to field a winning team. (SBF)
“Yes, I have heard this before. That’s an odd thing to be saying this year when there may be the lowest correlation between payroll and winning in decades. There are two teams way at the top of the standings (Tampa & Minnesota) with payrolls way below ours. Obviously, there are teams that are way, way at the top of payroll that are not going to make the post-season. So, this is an odd year to still hang on to that claim.”
Does it bother you when Hank Steinbrenner comes out the other day and says he is embarrassed about The Yankees performance this year, so next year, New York will buy up everyone in sight to make things right again in The Bronx. (SBF)
“I didn’t see that (comment), but how it that different from anything they have done in the past. That is their operating philosophy, not ours. That’s not a change to me. That is what they believe in.”
With that answer--Part One with Stan Kasten concludes.
Tomorrow, in Part Two, Sohna and I pick up Our Chat With Our Team President discussing the recent attempt to sign Washington's Number One Draft Pick--Aaron Crow. That discussion and a whole lot more coming tomorrow as Our Conversation With Stan Kasten continues.