Sports Outside the Beltway

Washington Nationals Finally Have an Owner

The Nats finally have an owner, or, technically, a group of them, led by Ted Lerner.

A group of area businessmen led by developer Theodore N. Lerner was awarded ownership of the Washington Nationals yesterday and pledged to build a first-class baseball organization by investing heavily in player development and working closely with the city on construction of the team’s new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront. Lerner, who has made a fortune in real estate across the Washington region over the last five decades, was informed of the decision by Major League Baseball in a telephone call from Bud Selig, the league’s commissioner. It brought to a close a 17-month ownership search for the franchise that was moved to Washington from Montreal before the 2005 season.


Lerner, 80, was selected over seven other bidders who each had agreed to pay the $450 million sale price set by Major League Baseball, whose 29 other owners bought the struggling Montreal Expos for $120 million in February 2002.

Selig told reporters that it was the “family model” of the Lerner group and Lerner’s strong roots in the Washington area that persuaded him to award them the team. Lerner will oversee a Nationals ownership group of 14 investors that includes his son Mark D. Lerner, who will run the franchise, and his sons-in-law, Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum. “The family model meant a lot to me,” Selig said. “I’ve seen the family model work and it works well. There’s continuity. There’s stability. If you look back in our history, the family model works well. The family ownership was very important and the depth of their commitment to philanthropy was most impressive.”

Selig also said the Lerners’ recent addition of former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten, who is well respected in baseball circles and enjoys Selig’s confidence, helped tip the balance. And the commissioner offered the reclusive Lerner some advice. “I said to him this morning, ‘Whether you know it or not, your life took a very dramatic turn in the public,’ ” Selig said. “I’m not sure he really knows it, but he’ll surround himself with good people like his son and Stan Kasten.”

That the Expos/Nats were allowed to compete for three years while being wholly owned by the other franchises was a scandal. It is hard to conceive of a more obvious conflict of interest than having competitors control a team’s finances and personnel decisions.

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