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Nationals president Stan Kasten leaving club

R.C. Collins

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WASHINGTON (AP)—Stan Kasten is leaving the Washington Nationals after 41/2 years as the team’s president, announcing Thursday that he will resign at the end of the season.

The Nationals are headed toward a third consecutive last-place finish in the NL East, and their attendance is 14th in the 16-team league.

On Monday, Washington’s game against the Houston Astros drew an announced paid attendance of 10,999 to Nationals Park, the team’s smallest home crowd since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Fewer than 12,000 showed up Tuesday, and fewer than 13,000 were at Wednesday’s game at a stadium that opened in 2008 and holds more than 40,000.

In May 2006, Kasten was part of the group led by Washington-area real estate developer Ted Lerner that was picked by Major League Baseball to buy the Nationals.

Kasten immediately became the public face of that group, doing most of the speaking at a news conference to introduce the new owners.

Meeting with reporters in a dugout at the ballpark before Thursday’s game, Kasten said he told the Lerner family a year ago that he planned to leave at the end of the 2010 season.

Kasten did not explain in detail Thursday exactly why he decided to depart. He repeatedly used the phrase, “It’s about me.” He also said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

When he came to Washington, Kasten immediately outlined the plan he wanted to implement to improve the club, focusing on pitching and grooming young talent. He hoped to create success similar to that of the Atlanta Braves, who won a World Series championship and 14 consecutive division titles after Kasten oversaw their rebuilding.

While the Nationals organization made some strides in improving its crop of minor league players, the big league team has struggled to be competitive. The Nationals finished with the worst record in the majors in 2008 (59-102) and 2009 (59-103), which allowed the team to be the first in baseball history to have the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft two years in a row.

The Nationals picked Stephen Strasburg(notes) in 2009, signing him to a record $15.1 million contract, and he made his major league debut to much fanfare this June. But the right-handed pitcher was injured last month and he had reconstructive elbow surgery on Sept. 3 that could keep him out of the starting rotation until the 2012 season.

Kasten was a powerful figure on the Atlanta sports scene for more than two decades, running baseball’s Braves, the NBA’s Hawks and the NHL’s Thrashers. He left all three posts in November 2003, when the Hawks and Thrashers were on the verge of being sold to new owners and the Braves were going through budget cuts.

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