Albert L. Lord, chairman of the board of Reston-based student loan giant Sallie Mae, yesterday took over as the lead investor among a longtime group of Virginia businessmen trying to purchase the Washington Nationals.

Lord replaced William Collins, who led an unsuccessful 12-year quest to bring a baseball team to Northern Virginia, as the major force behind the group's effort to buy the Nationals. Collins will continue to serve as vice chairman and chief executive of the group, which will still be known as American Baseball Capital.

Lord's disclosure came on the day that initial bids for the Nationals were to be filed. His move also coincides with attempts by bidders to bolster their finances and credibility as they head into what could be one of the most expensive auctions conducted for a baseball team.

"It's important for Major League Baseball to know that I'm now the guy," said Lord, 59. "They know that and we've submitted a bid. All the forms have designated me the control guy."

Several other groups acknowledged they submitted initial bids for the Nationals yesterday, but most did so anonymously for fear of offending MLB. The deadline for bids was 5 p.m. yesterday, and baseball officials did not respond to e-mails and phone calls about how many bids were filed.

"Mr. Haney is very excited to have put in his bid today and looks forward to the process," said Corey Busch, who is advising Franklin Haney Sr., a Washington-based financier originally from Tennessee. Asked about the amount of their initial bid, Busch would only say, "Hopefully enough."

Local entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, a former partner in the Washington Capitals, Wizards and MCI Center, said of his bid, "We are excited about the opportunity to become the stewards of such an important community asset like the Washington Nationals and hope that we will be entrusted with its operation."

"We are delighted to be part of the process, and excited about the future of baseball in D.C.," said Winston Lord, spokesman for the District-based Fred Malek-Jeffrey Zients group. (Winston Lord is not related to Albert L. Lord.)

Albert L. Lord said yesterday that he had been mulling the idea of buying the Nationals for a few months and originally had thought of piecing his own group together from scratch. But an adviser urged him to contact the Collins-led group, which had lost a major backer when financier Russ Ramsey joined the Malek-Zients group several months ago. The Collins group also took a hit when the Virginia state government declined to give its backing to stadium bonds for a ballpark in Loudoun County, leading the way for the Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, to move to the District.

"It's very important for this city, at this time, to have a franchise that is well run," said Lord, who has homes in McLean and Annapolis. "It happens at a point in my life that feels like it makes some sense to me. I would very much like to be a large part of the future of the Nationals and to make some things happen. We're very much a D.C. group at this point."

As chief executive and vice chairman of SLM Corp., Lord is one of the highest-paid executives in the Washington region. He earned $41.8 million in 2003, of which $33.2 million was the estimated value of stock options. Lord led a 2002 Washington Post examination of highest-paid chief executives in the region.

Like Fannie Mae, SLM, also known as Sallie Mae, is chartered by the government and is the top student loan company in the country. The company, which services, collects and invests in federally insured student loans, is fully privatized and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Lord, a graduate of Penn State, began his career at Peat Marwick Mitchell in Philadelphia. He was later treasurer at First Pennsylvania Corporation before joining Sallie Mae in 1981. He left Sallie Mae in 1993, joined its board of directors in December 1995 and was appointed chief executive in 1997. The company employs about 10,000 people in 20 states. Sallie Mae's market capital has grown approximately tenfold to nearly $25 billion since Lord's return to the company.