Robert I. Schattner grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, spending summers rooting for the boys in the pin stripes. At the same time in Washington, Theodore N. Lerner remembers walking to Griffith Stadium to watch the Senators "whenever I could raise the quarter" to sit in the bleachers.
Now, four decades removed from the baseball passions of their boyhoods, Schattner and Lerner, two self-made multimillionaire businessmen who have known each other only since 1976, have once again joined the quest to return baseball to Washington.
Schattner and Lerner both have traveled this path before and found it filled with unexpected barriers.
Schattner, 60, a dentist by training, made his fortune through the development of the antiseptic mouthwash Chloraseptic and later Sporicidin, a cold sterilizing agent for medical and dental equipment. But he has struck out in his effort to own a baseball team.
When the late Robert Short, who owned the last Washington Senators baseball team, started threatening to move the team in 1971, Schattner joined the late Joseph Danzansky, the president of Giant Food, and attorney Marvin Willig in an effort to buy the team for $9 million.
"We put a deposit down," Schattner recalled. "It was a good-faith offer. However, (Short) never honored the offer. He kept the team and went to Texas."
Two years later, Schattner, Danzansky and Willig came even closer to owning the San Diego Padres, signing a $12 million deal to buy the team from C. Arnholt Smith. But Smith, after the sale was announced, did an about-face and sold the team to Ray Kroc.
Enter Lerner, 59, the publicity-shy Washington native who is the area's best-known shopping center magnate, having developed Landover Mall, Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center, White Flint Mall and Tysons Corner.
He currently is developing the Tysons II retail mall, the Greenbelt Hilton Hotel and six more office buildings, while also engaging in a nasty court feud with his younger brother Lawrence E. Lerner, who has alleged that his sibling has defrauded him out of tens of millions of dollars in the family business.
The elder Lerner unsuccessfully sought to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1975 and the team was sold to Edward Bennett Williams. A year later, Schattner met Lerner and, in Schattner's words, he and Lerner "have been actively following possibilities (of bringing baseball to Washington) ever since," attending league meetings and talking with owners who want to sell teams, including the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I believe we will succeed this time," Schattner said. "I think the Washington 'New-Names' will be playing here in 1987."
Lerner declined to talk directly about his baseball plans, but, through Schattner, said, "The city needs a team with good management. Within five years we can build a contender.
"It's not a good investment, but with good fan interest, it can be made viable. We have the stamina to build and the determination to remain here indefinitely."