Correction to This Article
A May 2 article about the pending sale of the Washington Nationals did not contain a full identification of sports broadcaster James T. Brown.

Lerner Expected To Get Nationals

By Thomas Heath and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Major League Baseball is likely to award ownership of the Washington Nationals to a group led by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, after efforts by District politicians and others to steer the selection to competing bidders apparently backfired, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Commissioner Bud Selig, who will decide who gets the franchise, was angered by accusations that Lerner's group was unacceptable because it had included minorities only as tokens rather than genuine partners, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations.

D.C. Council members Marion Barry and Vincent B. Orange Sr. held a news conference yesterday to accuse Lerner's family of "renting blacks" in its effort to win the right to buy the team from Major League Baseball.

Although there is no timetable for an announcement and Selig likes to deliberate at length, two sources familiar with his views said he has virtually ruled out Lerner's two main rivals: a group led by D.C. businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients and a conglomerate led by Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan.

As Lerner's prospects for winning the team have improved in recent weeks, Major League Baseball has come under pressure from national and local supporters of the other bidders. The lobbying -- including from some members of Congress -- came to a head yesterday with the Barry and Orange news conference.

Baseball officials closely monitored the session at the John A. Wilson Building. There, Barry (D-Ward 8) and Orange (D-Ward 5) suggested that the Lerners recently added several high-profile African American investors to their group solely to answer MLB's call for racial diversity. Those investors won't have any significant authority or input if the Lerner family is named team owner, the council members said.

"We can't have blacks being rented for a day," Barry said. "We want real participation. We need to do better than [teams] have done around the country.

"If you name the Lerners, you're five steps backward and five years backward."

When Selig and other baseball officials learned about the comments late yesterday, they were incensed and strengthened their resolve to back Lerner, according to the sources.

Michael Shapiro, a spokesman for the Lerner family, declined to comment. Associates of the Lerners said the family is abiding by a directive from MLB in the fall that asked the groups to refrain from talking publicly about the sale of the Nationals.

The significance of minority participation in running the franchise has grown more pronounced as MLB nears its decision.

The District is contributing $611 million in public money for a new stadium, and council members have said they expect the team owners to invest in the city and reflect its diversity. MLB officials have said they are seeking minority involvement in part to help rekindle interest in the sport among inner-city communities.

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