Long before he was a billionaire real estate developer and the owner of the Washington Nationals, 87 year old Ted Lerner was a baseball fan. He still talks fondly of growing up in Washington and being an usher at old Griffith Stadium, where as a young man he watched as many Senators games as he could.
He recalls working the 1937 All-Star Game in Washington and seeing some of the greats of the game play. Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott were all playing in that game on a sunny day in the Nation’s capital.
Lerner’s love for baseball had him attempting twice to buy the Baltimore Orioles, once in 1979 when the team went to Edward Bennett Williams, and then again in 1993 when he was beaten out by Peter Angelos. Lerner made it clear to baseball that he wanted to own a team.
He got that wish when the Lerner family won the bid to buy the Montreal Expos from Major League Baseball. Lerner had his own team, in his home town and he was a very happy man. Next he wanted to build a winner and he gave general manager Mike Rizzo instructions that he could spend what he needed to build a solid farm system and allow the Nationals to grow their own stars.
His first big free agent splash was getting someone who knew all about being a winner, a guy who did not have to carry the Nationals but would be a nice free agent building block. In 2011 the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million dollar contract.
Lerner paid Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper record draft deals in two straight years. He drew the ire of some baseball owners for paying draft picks such big money. Lerner did not care; he simply wanted to win, and these two players would help that happen.
The Lerner family are very private people, and Ted and his son Mark leave all of the baseball issues up to recently promoted president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo. But if you are at Nationals Park you will see Ted and Mark milling around and chatting with all the players.
All 25 members of the Washington Nationals are considered members of the Lerner family. There is a good bond between the players and the ownership group. Another odd member of the Lerner’s extended family is super agent Scott Boras, who has become very friendly with both Ted and Mark Lerner.
At 87 years of age, Ted Lerner is a man who would love to see a World Series with his Washington Nationals taking the crown.
He feels that signing the homegrown talent like Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Strasburg, Harper and the rest of the gang is part of the step. But to open up the wallet and to get free agents that fit the team is a very good long term plan.
Ted Lerner, the lifelong baseball fan, has given the fans of Washington a first class franchise and one that with his son Mark in charge will be a contender for years to come.