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Saturday, August 30, 2008
Building a Successful Franchise Takes Time...and Patience

In yesterday's edition of the Washington Times, Thom Loverro rips the management of the Washington Nationals for its poor performance, including Nationals president Stan Kasten for not achieving in two years the level of success he had as president of the Atlanta Braves (Kasten's Impact Not Visible):

If Kasten is not steering this ship - and it's difficult to believe that he is - then he needs to find a life preserver and jump because, as the great Micheal Ray Richardson once said, "The ship be sinking."

The franchise has become a source of bewilderment and amusement throughout the industry, the butt of jokes and the subject of embarrassing national media reports of mismanagement within the organization that are all too evident to those who have watched this debacle unfold here. The team has been abysmal, on its way to a 100-plus losses - the worst record of any team opening a new ballpark since the Camden Yards era began. Sure, the Nationals have been hit hard by injuries, but it doesn't explain the poor play and the wasted money on those players who have underperformed when they were on the field....

If the Lerners are not spending the money on payroll, not spending the money on high-priced draft picks and not spending the money on international signings, then where is the money going?....

And as a rule, I have found that if things seem really bad from the outside looking in - they're actually much worse. Kasten has maintained a positive party line. He would chew broken glass rather than reveal any internal turmoil. But it is clear this is not the work of a seasoned sports executive, especially one as highly regarded as Kasten. In a 2006 article in The Washington Post, NBA commissioner David Stern declared, "They've gotten themselves a first-class sports executive. It's fair to say it would be hard to replicate somebody with Stan's wide range of experience and his successes." The decisions and operations of this franchise do not mesh with the track record of a sports executive who ran what was considered the model organization in baseball for years, the Atlanta Braves. Between the Braves and the NBA's Hawks, he helped them to 30 postseason appearances.

I'm not sure how this reporter professes to know (1) what management decisions the Nationals are or should be making or (2) that the decisions and operations of the Nationals do not mesh with Kasten's track record with the Braves. However, he conveniently omits the fact that, before the Braves became a "model organization," they struggled through 4 consecutive losing seasons (including a season in which they lost 106 games) under Kasten's watch during the mid to late 80's. He omits the fact that, when Kasten took over the Nationals as president two years ago, Kasten warned that it was going to take years to make the Nationals a contender and that it would actually get worse before it got better. He omits the fact that any plan to build a franchise through player development takes much longer than two years. If he had interviewed Kasten, I'm sure Kasten would have pointed all of this out for him. But rather than interview anybody from the Nationals, Loverro chose to base his assertions upon a "rule" he "found" somewhere that says "if things seem really bad on the outside looking in -- they're actually much worse." I hope that's not the ethical standard for sports journalism these days.

Building a successful team on the field is not dependent upon how much money is spent on payroll in the short term. It takes time and patience. It also takes good scouting and player development personnel who share the same vision and philosophy, and who can effectively instill that vision and philosophy into the players at both the major and minor league levels. Kasten knows this all too well from his experience in Atlanta. Give him a couple more years, and he'll get it straightened out.


Although he isn't presenting any fully sourced facts, aren't you making a mistake by assuming that the opinions and the things he's saying aren't informed by interviews he's had, facts he's uncovered, or by people he's talked to?

Loverro's at the ballpark most every night. He's not a Marriotti, and he's not a blogger without access.

Sure, he could be pulling all this out of his beard, but it's also just as likely that some of the things he's throwing out there are sourced, even if they're not identified as such.

Blogger Chris Needham -- 8/30/2008 10:19 AM  


I think you just hit the nail on the head: No identification of sources. That is a problem and it's something that is fairly typical these days in sports journalism. Also, no interviews with people from the front office of the Nationals. Why not interview Kasten? By the way, being at the ballpark every night means nothing to me. That would make all season ticket holders and serious fans knowledgeable about management's decisions.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 8/30/2008 4:16 PM  

He's a columnist. It's his job to give an opinion.

Ideally, yes, he's doing a bit of reporting to form that opinion. Someone like Tom Boswell, who writes in the same market, is more of a reporter, but that doesn't mean that Loverro's doing the same thing in this case as someone who just watches the game on TV.

How do you know he didn't interview Kasten on this? It's entirely possible (and knowing Loverro and with some of the dynamics of the team's current front office/cluster-f), it's probably likely that Kasten is behind pretty big chunks of this.

Blogger Chris Needham -- 8/30/2008 10:01 PM  

I lived in Minnesota from 2000-2006, and I saw a franchise struggle to overcome poor play on the field and the front office turn around that history after nearly being "contracted" out of baseball. Now some point to the Twins as a model of small market effectiveness in building a winner. From 1993 through 2000, the Twins' highest win total for a season was 78. Since 2002, they have finished first in their division four times, and they are in the hunt this year despite the loss of Santana in their rotation. I remember the press being less than kind to ownership and the front office.

The Nationals were run by the league and left with little development of their farm system. This will not reversed overnight although in the comments to the article a reader noted that the Nationals are actually going in the wrong direction. Thom Loverro outlines a number of business points in the article that remind me of my years in living in Northern Virginia right before the exodus of the Senators to Texas when everyone said DC was a terrible baseball town. If these business observations are accurate, I think this is the work of a columnist lamenting the sorry state of a team he regularly watches. I hope the Nationals turn things around because my first exposure to Major League baseball was in DC. They have a rich baseball history even if it is not one noted by great success on the field.

Perhaps the sources were not identified because Loverro does not want them to dry up when he is painting a picture of a franchise run by the Lerners and not Kasten.

Blogger Ed Edmonds -- 9/01/2008 3:02 PM  

I agree that success at the MLB level does not always tell the entire story about the direction of a franchise. The problem with the Nats, though, is that they still have one of MLB's worst farm systems, 3-4 years into a rebuilding effort.

Just last month, the Nats failed to sign their first round draft pick. The Nats GM said that the club was unaware of the draftee's signing bonus demands when it drafted him. That is beyond reckless in this day and age.

In short, I agree that the column may have had holes, but the underlying message is correct. The Nats are a trainwreck, with no relief in sight in the short or long-run.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/02/2008 12:20 PM  

It seems to me Loverro is implying the problem is not with Kasten, but the owners --- the Lerners. As a Nationals season ticket holder, I have been disappointed with the conduct of the Lerners. It's a matter of public record that the Lerners have: withheld stadium rent payments to the city, sued the city claiming the stadium has not been "substantially" completed, and gone to arbitration with the city claiming the city should pay for the uniforms of the team (what a joke). When you combine such behavior with higher ticket prices in a brand new $600million publicly financed stadium, you can forgive me if I lend some credence to Loverro's column. I would also mention it is not uncommon for many concessions at Nationals Park to run out of such ballpark basics as hot dogs and mustard by the 5th inning (I have experienced this problem at six games this year). Just another example of the Lerner's mismanagement of the team and the stadium.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/03/2008 1:08 PM  

I'm not sure what the author is "implying" in the column, it is not clear from the column whether he is slamming only the Lerners (and not Kasten). However, he clearly rips the management decisions being made in baseball operations (of which Kasten is heavily involved in). This column is more about the on-field performance than the off-field business issues because all that really matters in the end is how the team performs on the field. In other words, nobody criticizes management or its decisions (with respect to baseball ops. or business ops.) when the team is performing well. So if the Nationals were in the playoff hunt this year, neither you nor Loverro would be complaining about a rent dispute with the city and running out of mustard for hot dogs by the 5th inning.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 9/04/2008 4:58 PM  

People just don't know what they're getting them selfs into...
that's it.

Anonymous Art -- 9/04/2008 9:16 PM  

I would like to point out that when the Lerners purchased the team from MLB, the team did not have one Dominican prospect. Since then, however, the Nationals have been able to outbid teams like the Yankees and Red Sox for players like Esmaylin Gonzalez and other Dominican prospects, and now have 2teams in the Dominican Republic training out of one of the best academies down there. In fact, the Nationals have reached the finals the last two years in the DSL. In addition, the Potomac Nationals and the Gulf Coast Rookie ball teams have also made the playoffs this year. So, I would not say that this team is doing everything wrong. Perhaps there are accounting and / or ballpark operation issues, but I'm not sure this is uncommon for the first season at a new park where things like logistics are still being figured out.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/04/2008 11:27 PM  

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