NEW YORK -- Theodore Lerner got a standing ovation from his soon-to-be colleagues and competitors. All that remains to complete his purchase of the Washington Nationals is the paperwork.
The $450 million sale from Major League Baseball to the group headed by Lerner and Stan Kasten was unanimously approved Thursday by owners. Sometime between mid-June and mid-July, Lerner will become the team's first real owner in 4½ seasons.
"As kid who grew up as a huge Senators fan, today's vote
represents a dream come true," said Lerner, who exchanged
greetings with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, his future
"We intend to make the Nationals a winning team, playing in
what will be a great ballpark, in a city that belongs to all
Americans," Lerner said.
The incoming ownership must complete its financing before the deal can close. When the Nationals open their first homestand after the All-Star break on July 21, which Kasten termed a "grand reopening," there will be some changes at RFK Stadium.
Washington is 14-27, 10½ games back in the NL East, and
attendance has dropped in the team's second season in the capital.
Kasten, who will become team president, gave no timetable for
deciding the futures of general manager Jim Bowden, manager Frank
Robinson and other personnel.
"Next week we're going to all have an opportunity for the first
time to meet the front office, meet the team and proceed from
there," he said. "It's going to take a little while. I can't
predict when or what will happen. But we're working on it every
Kasten said it's too late for the incoming group to influence
the team's selections in next month's amateur draft, making the
July 31 deadline for trades without waivers the first big baseball
date for the club under the new group.
Construction already has started on the team's new ballpark, along the Anacostia River. Washington officials say it will open for the 2008 season, a timetable that may be hard to meet.
"Everyone has steadfastly maintained that it's going to be
Opening Day '08," Kasten said. "At least for now, that's what
they all believe, so that's what I believe."
As president of the Atlanta Braves, Kasten supervised the construction of Turner Field.
"Not just Turner Field, but all the stadiums that have come
after have stressed areas that can be animated, activated, so your
customers can do more than simply sit in a seat for nine innings,"
he said. "We think that's an important part of what modern-day
customers expect, and we're certainly going to be trying to add
Kasten predicted the team would become a "flagship" franchise
for baseball and a high-revenue team.
"We'll be able to compete with anyone, in particular when we're
in our new stadium, and we'll try to be as wise as we can with our
resources," he said.
He repeated that the team will emphasize minor leagues and
scouting and stay away from high-priced free agents for now.
"I think if you're not ready to win and you squander money on
that, at the expense of player development, it's foolish," he
said. "Job one for us is getting to a position where we can win as
fast as possible. In my judgment, the way to do that is to commit
our time and energy and resources to player development. ... As
soon as we're in a position to win -- I don't know if that's this
year, next year or the year after -- we're going to go for it."
Baseball's other 29 teams purchased the poor-drawing Montreal Expos for $120 million in 2002, and the commissioner's office has operated the team since then. The franchise was moved to Washington for the 2005 season and renamed the Nationals.
"Would I want to do this again? No, of course not," Selig
said. "But it was an emergency. We sort of almost at a certain
point in our situation didn't really have much of a choice."
The other teams will make a profit on their investment in the
Expos/Nationals, but Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer,
said the amount hasn't been determined because operating profits or
losses during Major League Baseball's ownership have not been
Owners were shown a presentation of projections that the
World Baseball Classic had $60 million in revenue and $45 million
in expenses. Of any remaining net profit, 35 percent will be split
by MLB and the players' association. The rest goes to other leagues
such as Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball
Organization, the International Baseball Federation and the teams
involved, except for Cuba. ... Owners were briefed on upcoming
labor negotiations, which Selig called "the major issue
confronting us." ... Former Senate Majority Leader George
Mitchell, hired by Selig in March to investigate steroids in
baseball, spoke to owners during the meeting. Baseball spokesman
Rich Levin said Mitchell introduced himself to the group.