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Monday, November 17
Updated: November 18, 3:10 AM ET
 
Kasten led Braves, Hawks, Thrashers

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Stan Kasten was taking a tour of major league ballparks to celebrate his graduation from law school when he happened to meet Ted Turner.

From that 1976 encounter, Kasten evolved into one of the most powerful figures in sports -- the first person to serve as the president of three major league teams simultaneously.

Kasten left all three posts Monday, resigning as president of baseball's Atlanta Braves, basketball's Atlanta Hawks and hockey's Atlanta Thrashers.

The decision wasn't entirely unexpected, considering Time Warner is on the verge of selling the Hawks and Thrashers to a group led by Boston businessman Steve Belkin.

But Kasten also walked away from the Braves, influenced by that team's ambivalent future after 12 straight division titles.

Time Warner, which also owns the Braves, is determined to make a significant cut in payroll. That will likely lead to the loss of several key free agents, a group that includes Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez and Gary Sheffield.

"A lot of things were changing," Kasten said. "I just felt this was a real convenient time for me to make this move."

Kasten, 51, was vague about his future -- except to joke that he has no plans to be a sports agent. There's a chance he could return to the Hawks and Thrashers once the sale is approved by the NBA and NHL, expected to happen within a month.

"I'm not ruling anything out," Kasten said. "I view myself as approaching the midpoint of my career. When people ask me what is my greatest accomplishment, I say I haven't done it yet. I want to do a lot more of what I've done, only bigger and better."

Belkin plans to hire a CEO to run the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena. He said Kasten would be considered.

"Clearly, he would be a serious candidate because of his experience and knowledge," Belkin said. "This frees us up to at least talk about it."

Then again, the new owners may want to break all links with the past. The Hawks have missed the playoffs four years in a row and are plagued by poor attendance. The Thrashers, in their fifth year of existence, have yet to make the postseason.

Kasten's legacy is boosted by his role in helping transform the Braves from a last-place team to a perennial powerhouse. Atlanta's unprecedented run of division titles began in 1991 with a memorable worst-to-first season that ended with a Game 7 loss to Minnesota in the World Series.

"Within the business, we are considered the gold standard of organizations," Kasten said. "For that, I am very proud."

He only wishes the Braves had won more championships. Despite all those division titles, they won their lone World Series in 1995.

Kasten began his rise to power shortly after Turner purchased the Braves and Hawks, two of pro sports' most woeful teams. They met at a baseball game in St. Louis and immediately hit it off -- the acerbic New Jersey lawyer and the drawling Southern media mogul.

Turner hired Kasten as legal counsel of the Braves and Hawks. One year later, he moved up to become assistant general manager of the Hawks. By 1979, Kasten was the youngest general manager in NBA history at 27.

Additional duties came in 1986 when Turner named Kasten as president of the Braves and Hawks, as well as vice president of the TBS Superstation.

Kasten surrendered the GM position with the Hawks in 1990, hiring Pete Babcock. But he became involved with the company's third sports team in 1999, taking over as president of the Thrashers when Harvey Schiller left.

By that time, Turner was losing his grip on the teams. His role lessened when TBS merged with Time Warner, and he was forced out altogether after a merger with AOL.

Seeking to reduce its huge debt, Time Warner decided last year to unload the Atlanta teams, putting Kasten's future in doubt.

Belkin's group -- which includes Turner's son-in-law -- reached a deal in September to purchase the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena for $250 million.

Kasten, who also oversaw the arena, was prevented from talking with the new ownership group while under contract to Time Warner. He would clearly prefer to remain in the city where he has lived for 27 years.

"Atlanta has a huge home-court advantage in whatever I do next," Kasten said. "But there's no way to tell how this will end up."

Time Warner is no longer shopping the Braves, but it's clear the media conglomerate expects the team to improve its bottom line. The payroll, which has been one of the highest in baseball, will face significant cuts beginning with the 2004 season.

Knowing that, will Braves general manager John Schuerholz soon follow Kasten out the door?

Schuerholz emphatically denied that sort of speculation. He also has no desire to replace Kasten as team president.

"This will be a seamless transition," Schuerholz insisted. "We've not had a year where we didn't have a challenge of one type or another."




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