Major League Baseball selected the group headed by Theodore Lerner, a GW Law alumnus and former member of the Board of Trustees, to be the new owner of the Washington Nationals Wednesday.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced the decision in a telephone press conference Wednesday afternoon. The announcement came after more than a year of negotiations between eight different bidding groups vying for the team. Selig’s decision will be forwarded to MLB’s 29 owners and considered for approval in two weeks at a meeting in New York.
Selig said one of the reasons he selected Lerner was because the group he heads is family-based and includes his son and two son-in-laws.
“The family model meant a lot to me,” Selig said during the press conference. “I’ve seen the family model work, and it works well because of its continuity, stability.”
Lerner, 80, is expected to take over the Nationals starting in June and has agreed to pay the team’s $450 million price tag. MLB purchased the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, for $120 million in 2002 and moved the team to Washington for the 2005 season. Lerner serves as the principal of Lerner Enterprises, a Bethesda, Md.-based real estate organization.
Lerner Hall and the Lerner Health and Wellness Center were named in the Lerner family’s honor after it gave GW $550,000 and $5 million donations, respectively. Lerner was also a member of the Board of Trustees from 1986 to 2001 and is now a trustee emeritus.
The Lerner family held a press conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington Wednesday night.
“I remember as a child finding my way into Senators’ games. Since the Senators have left, I have wanted to bring baseball back to D.C.,” Lerner said, referring to the District’s former baseball team.
“We want to make the city proud. We want to make baseball a gift to the city,” he said.
GW Vice President of Communications Michael Freedman, an avid Nationals fan and season ticket holder, said he “couldn’t imagine a better owner for the Nationals or for GW,” adding that the University could try to generate a better relationship with the team because of Lerner’s ownership.
“You can bet we will be looking for new synergies between the University and Washington Nationals with the Lerners at the helm,” Freedman said in an interview Wednesday.
Lerner graduated from GW with an Associates Arts degree from the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences in 1948 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from GW Law in 1950. Mark Lerner, his son, earned his bachelor’s degree from GW’s School of Business and Public Management in 1975. Lerner’s daughter, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, also earned a GW Law degree in 1983.
“The Lerners have been a key part on many fronts of the GW community,” Media Relations Director Tracy Schario said Wednesday. “They have given generously to the University over the years in terms of time and money.”
Schario agreed that having active alumni and donors as the leader of the Nationals can bring positive things for students, such as ticket deals.
“We always look to opportunities to provide to students with things that are unique to GW and this could be one of those things,” she said.
The Lerner family has also attempted to purchase the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles, and Mark Lerner is also a partial owner of the Washington Capitals.
Three other GW alumni were included in the eight groups vying for the team, including Bill Collins, who was a player for the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system; Colin Powell, the secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s first administration; and Russell W. Ramsey, a current member of GW’s Board of Trustees.
Other alumni already tied to the Nationals include rookie pitcher Michael O’Connor, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2002, and student Stephen Roche, who works as the mascot, Screech the Eagle.
D.C. officials also plan to break ground on a $611 million stadium complex along the Anacostia River in Southeast Thursday.
Selig said, “We now have a team back in our nation’s capital, we have a new ballpark and a new owner. The journey is almost over.”
– Robert Parker and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.