What Ails the Nats: Media and Bloggers
Say this for Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden, they give great press conference.
Today was NatsFest 2009, featuring something like 3,500 or 4,000 fans, autographs, authentic nachos with inauthentic Cheez, and Q&A sessions with Kasten, Bowden, George Will, Manny Acta and Phil Wood.
Bowden, as you might have guessed, started out with a story that began with George Steinbrenner demanding lie detector tests of his employees and ended with Bowden saying his underwear had turned brown. Match that, Brian Cashman. One of the classic public-speaking maneuvers: poop jokes.
Later, speaking of former Reds owner Marge Schott, Bowden noted that she had a great side and "another side, too." And he discussed the defecation preferences of her pooch, explaining that "what we had done after the first couple of years was we made sure that the business was done in foul territory." I LOL'd repeatedly, and even more so when Kasten took the mic a few hours later.
But of greater interest, perhaps, was the gentle gurgling stream of vaguely pointed fan questions about the Future of the Franchise, and specifically about the payroll and free-agent acquisitions, questions that had something of a Boswellian bent. Several questioners even referenced Boz's latest.
Like, Bowden told this extended story about how Schott once charged him to get the best available pitcher during a pennant race, and how she wanted to win so badly, and how that earned her a World Series, and how she won that title "because she was willing to pull the trigger at the time when the club needed it."
"Good segue," shouted some cynic in the crowd, to laughter and applause.
"Would you like to buy my Segway?" Bowden asked.
Anyhow, while I learned plenty of other fascinating tidbits today--Josh Willingham has a pay account to follow Alabama football recruiting online, and Garrett Mock's grandma hunts elk!--this was a day for learning exactly what the team's decision-makers think about recent media sniping about their club. The answer? It's all the media's fault!
Hell, they convinced me. I'm gonna unsubscribe to The Baseball Insider and try to find an RSS for The Kastinsider. Here are the quotes, and they're long. The gist: while you might think you want the team to spend more money, really, you're wrong, and also possibly stupid. Just trust us.
Kasten, on what the payroll will be: "I get that question a lot, and I've always had it for all these years that I've been in sports. And I'm bewildered why fans ask me that. Because first of all, I don't know, and second of all, if I knew I wouldn't tell you, because I've never talked about payroll.
"And you know why? Because you really don't care. You think you care, [but] I know you don't care, and here's why. You don't CARE about payroll. You know, who here wanted us to sign Mark Teixeira? Show of hands? Anyone? [All raise hands.] Ok. Me too, ok? Now let me ask, do you care, do you CARE if we paid him $180 million or $18 million? You don't care what we're paying him, you just want him here. I get that.
"Another question, do you want last year's--I won't name the teams in the American League that had payrolls over $100 million that wound up last--do you want those $100 million teams, or do you want the $40 million team from Tampa that went to the world series. Right? Ok? You don't CARE about payroll, what you care about is your team.
"Payroll is not a guarantee of success and it's not an excuse for losing, so don't be distracted by it, no matter how often the media wants you to be distracted by it. Care about the team, care about the moves we're making, care about the progress we're making toward having the best team we can, that's what you should be demanding. Be demanding that the team is aggressive, the team has a plan and that it is building to the team that you want, NOT the payroll number you want, because that doesn't matter. Get the team you want here, that's what you always should be focused on, so that's my answer to that question."
(When a fan later asked about extending Ryan Zimmerman and offered to negotiate the deal, Bowden had this to say: "You know what, now that I know we don't care about payroll, we should let him do it.")
Bowden, asked 'What do you think is a reasonable number to put on a payroll for this team?': "Ok, I'll answer this way, Tampa Bay got to the World Series last year with a payroll that's gonna be less than ours this year, and a couple years ago the Rockies did that too, and the Yankees have spent a lot of money the last four or five years and have no World Series championships to brag about. [applause]. Money doesn't buy you championships, at all.
"And what we've tried to do here is to build a strong foundation by hiring the very best scouts in the game, the best evaluators in the game, and to try to build the club the right way, from the bottom up, drafting Zimmermans, trading for young players like Milledge or Dukes, Rule 5'ing people like Flores. And then when a Mark Teixeira becomes available to add to our young players, jumping in....
"Our budget number's never been a strict number, it's always been flexible. The Lerner family's always open for us to bring any kind of proposals, trades or free agents to them with an open mind. For example, the Olsen and Willingham deal adds a significant amount of payroll to our club, and that got approved like that. We recommended Mark Teixeira, and that got approved like that.
"So I think some things that are being written by different writers all over the country have been unfair. But when you lose 102 games and you're in the position we are, those things are gonna happen, until we win and prove to everyone that The Plan works, then people will jump on the Bandwagon. Stan keeps telling me the stories in Atlanta on how many games they lost and how miserable it was and no one came to the ballpark. And then all of the sudden when you win 14 straight titles, everyone jumps on board and can understand what you're doing. So I think that the Lerners and Stan are committed to building the club the right way and they're willing to step up when we need them to step up. [One or two people applauding.]
Kasten, on the franchise's fading minor-league rankings: "Let me say this, ranking services and bloggers, they all have their opinions. What they are ranking, though, are abstractions and theoretical things. We look at this, and it's ironic that right now our rankings might be lower than the year before, because this is finally the year when our farm system is producing like we always wanted.
"This will be the first year when we have five or six or more real major league prospects at AAA. That's never happened before, it's taken us two years to get them up there, but now for the first time we have half a dozen or more players a heartbeat away from contributing. That's what we always wanted to do, get in the position where the infrastructure's in place to feed the pipeline, year-in year-out, and now finally we can turn our attention to the most important job, which is building the team here up here in Washington. Couldn't have done it without that infrastructure, and no matter what anybody else's ranking is, we now finally have a system that IS producing for us at all positions and at all levels."
Mike Rizzo, on the same: "It's an opinion of the writers and editors of Baseball America. And they have opinions like everybody out here, and like we do on the front panel. Their judgment was that although we were rated the best draft in 2007, some of those players were injured and didn't have the statistical seasons that they would have liked to move us up the food chain, so to speak, on Baseball America. But the bottom line is, we feel here at the front that we're doing it the right way."
Kasten, on persistent rumors of his departure: "Ok, and have I left? Ok, that's all I can tell you. We have a lot of media people in the room, and I hate to be disrespectful to them (as they will tell you), but you can't believe everything you read. I came here because I LOVE this city and I love it more now then when I got here and I REALLY love the people I've met here. And I also came to accomplish something, to make this a winner.
"If I'm ever unhappy, it's because we're not winning yet. You bet, that makes me unhappy. Everything else about this makes me very happy, and I love it here. ALL of us, I can assure you--me, everyone up here and all of our owners--are in this together. We have one goal, and that's to make this a winner. In case there's any doubt, please keep in mind, whenever you have any questions, our owners are most successful when we win.
"Ok, you get that? That's how they become REALLY successful. So if anyone doesn't understand that, that's what we're all trying to do, period. And anything else you read is just silly. You've been reading this for a year and here I still am, what does that tell you?"
Bowden, on Boz's column, and whether ownership is committed: "Yeah, absolutely. They're completely committed to winning here, and certainly we bring deals. At my end, I bring them to Stan Kasten our president, and he brings them to ownership, but they've been completely committed to doing things.
"And I've got to tell you that in the Mark Teixeira negotiations, here's a two-way player who's one of the best offensive AND defensive first basemen in the game, our ownership stepped up. And we were not outbid by the Yankees. We were not outbid by the Angels, we were not outbid by the Dodgers. We weren't outbid by anyone. Our ownership was so committed to winning that we competed at the highest level for that player.
"Now, unfortunately our team's not good enough on the field right now for free agents to decide they wanna play here over teams that are proven to get there. But.for them to stand up at that level like they did with that many years and that much money at the table, that just speaks volumes, because it tells you that whenever that type of player is out there, they're gonna step up."
(Finally, in perhaps the best moment of the day, Kasten addressed the Let Teddy Win brigade. "I'm asked all the time about this Let Teddy Win stuff, and 'Stan, when is Teddy gonna win?' as if I'm Nostradamus or something like that. How could I know, all right? But I do know this, law of averages says he's gonna win some day, and the ONLY way to be sure you're here for when that happens is to come every night!"
And massive applause. Take that, Boz, for canceling your season-ticket package.)
(Also, cynic though I might be, it was actually a fun time. Yay Nats!)
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