By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 5, 2005
Albert L. Lord, the chairman of the board of Reston-based student loan giant Sallie Mae, says he is the most capable bidder of the eight groups trying to purchase the Washington Nationals and is committed to keeping the team in Washington.
"I'm as capable as anyone," Lord, 60, said during an interview this week. "In fact, I think I'm more capable."
As baseball gets closer to selecting an owner of the Nationals, league officials said the Lord group continues to have some support, although it doesn't enjoy the standing of the three leading contenders: Washington developer Theodore N. Lerner, Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan and a syndicate of Washington investors headed by Frederic V. Malek and Jeffrey D. Zients.
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and his close advisers could submit their candidate for approval at a league owners' meeting in Milwaukee on Nov. 16-17.
After the three front-runners, baseball officials said Lord and Franklin Haney, who has businesses in Tennessee and the District, are the strongest candidates. Stan Kasten, a respected sports executive who enjoys a strong relationship with Selig, is also viewed favorably because of that experience, according to the officials, who insisted that they not be quoted by name.
The two remaining bidders, Washington entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, who has partnered with billionaire international financier George Soros, and Chicago businessman Yusef Jackson, who has partnered with California grocery magnate Ronald Burkle, do not have as much support, the sources said.
Selig has said that all eight groups are still contenders for the Nationals. Each has agreed to pay the $450 million price set by Major League Baseball, according to baseball officials. Lord has offered to pay up to $480 million, sources said, although baseball has set the ceiling at $450 million.
"My money and my heart are in the right place," said Lord, who met with Selig for two hours in Houston last week.
Lord has teamed with several members of the Virginia Baseball Club, which failed in an attempt to convince baseball to relocate a team in Northern Virginia. Lord also has added former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) to his group.
Kasten, 53, has been among the quietest bidders, relying on the reputation he built as a sports executive when he managed and helped shape the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL for more than two decades. During that time, Kasten's teams went to the playoffs 30 times, won 15 division championships and five National League championships, and won the World Series in 1995.
Kasten guided the design and construction of Turner Field, home of the Braves, and Philips Arena, where the Hawks and Thrashers play, which might make him a merger candidate for another group seeking his expertise in running a team and his help in the construction of the $535 million baseball stadium the District plans to build along the Anacostia River.
The group headed by Ledecky, a former minority owner of the Washington Capitals, has ample financial resources in Soros. Ledecky's addition of Soros last spring touched off criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill because of his liberal politics. Ledecky's last-minute failure to finalize his attempted purchase of the Oakland Athletics in 2002 may have hurt his bid.
Ledecky, who was scheduled to visit Selig this week in Milwaukee, has campaigned as openly for the team as any other bidder. He held a news conference in May that touted his backing from key city officials, such as former mayor Marion Barry, now a member of the D.C. Council, and announced at the time a $100,000 donation to renovate city recreation facilities.
Yusef Jackson, a son of Jesse L. Jackson, has teamed with Burkle. Jackson, 34, a lawyer who owns River North Sales & Service, an Anheuser-Busch Inc. distributorship in Chicago, and Burkle, 52, who served as a vice chairman of John Kerry's presidential campaign, are still active bidders, but lack the support that others have.