Lerners Make Team Ownership Official

Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner, center, hands out free baseball hats to fans with his son Jacob, right, at RFK Stadium on Friday, July 21, 2006, in Washington, before the Nationals played the Chicago Cubs in a baseball game. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner, center, hands out free baseball hats to fans with his son Jacob, right, at RFK Stadium on Friday, July 21, 2006, in Washington, before the Nationals played the Chicago Cubs in a baseball game. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson) (Lawrence Jackson - AP)
By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The family of Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner took formal control of the Washington Nationals yesterday after transferring $450 million to Major League Baseball, the team announced.

The completion of the sale came nearly two years after Washington was awarded the former Montreal Expos and three months after Lerner and his partners were selected by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to buy the franchise.

"This is an exciting challenge," new team president and part owner Stan Kasten said in a written statement. "Now that all the t's are crossed and all the i's are dotted, the real fun work begins to make this franchise a long-term success on and off the field."

The sale was held up last week when baseball officials declared the District government in default of the stadium lease agreement. Attorneys for MLB said the city had failed to turn over critical documents by prescribed deadlines. City officials submitted more paperwork Friday, which led MLB to complete the sale to the Lerner group.

"I committed to getting everything done on Friday, and we did," D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark H. Tuohey said yesterday. "I'm delighted that ownership has changed hands. We look forward to a very positive, long-term relationship."

Lerner, Kasten and the rest of the new management face a number of major decisions during the next few weeks.

On the field, Kasten will be weighing whether to trade star outfielder Alfonso Soriano by Monday's trade deadline. Off the field, the Lerner group is still negotiating over how to build two parking garages at the site of the new stadium.

The District government has said it will pursue a mixed-use development in which shops, restaurants, condominium units and a hotel will be built above and around the garages. But the Lerner group has opposed the plan, favoring free-standing garages that are cheaper and easier to build. The parties are scheduled to discuss the matter in more detail next week.

Shortly after the sale was finalized, the team announced that it had hired Mike Rizzo as assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations. Rizzo, 45, joins the Nationals after spending the previous seven seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, primarily as scouting director.

Meanwhile, the new ownership team has announced a price decrease on 2,000 upper-deck tickets, making some as low as $3 apiece, beginning with tonight's game against the San Francisco Giants at RFK Stadium.


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