Losing First True Owner is a True Loss for the Nationals
Ted Lerner, the first true owner of the Washington Nationals since baseball returned to Washington, DC, passed away on Sunday, February 12. Theodore N. Lerner was 97. Mr. Lerner, a lifelong Washington resident, succumbed to complications from pneumonia. As a young boy, Lerner attended Senators games at the old Griffith Stadium.
On the day he was born, October 15, 1925, the Washington Senators lost a deciding game 7 of the World Series on the road to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A year earlier, the Senators defeated the New York Giants in game 7 of the World Series at home. The 1924 World Series Championship would be the last in D.C. until 2019.
In the middle of the 2006 season, Mr. Lerner and his family and partners purchased the Nationals from Major League Baseball. From that day forward, the Lerner family has “rolled out the red carpet” for the community of new and old Nats fans. Along the way, the Washington Nationals went all the way.
From Rizzo to Russo
In my opinion, Mr. Lerner’s best move was the hiring of General Manager Mike Rizzo in 2009. As evidenced by playoff runs in ’12, ’14, ’16, ’17, and ’19, Rizzo has been very successful since he was brought on board. Although a full rebuild is currently underway, I see no reason more success will not follow in the future, with a big “thank you” to Ted Lerner.
Here’s a wonderful testimonial by Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo with a video tribute narrated by Matt Vasgersian: https://www.mlb.com/nationals/video/nats-owner-ted-lerner-dies-at-97?partnerId=web_video-playback-page_video-share
Ted The Builder
Ted Lerner oversaw the building of Nationals Park and the building of a championship roster for the Nats. The neighborhood surrounding the ballpark has benefited directly and indirectly from Lerner family investments in the Nationals and their core real estate business.
Much of the Nationals fan base have been upset with ownership after losing beloved players to free agency during that past several years. But given that Mr. Lerner grew up during the Great Depression, it had to be hard for him to grasp current-day salaries in MLB, especially for superstars. However, Lerner more than stepped up to the plate to acquire Jason Werth in 2011 ($126M over 7 years) and Max Scherzer in 2015 ($210M over 7 years). Those figures and terms turned out to be well worth the investment as the Nationals became a desirable baseball destination for many free agents.
Nationals’ attendance may be down, along with their expected winning percentage, but any true Nationals fan would say that their pride in the Nationals is still very strong. One look at the impressive scope of Nationals community outreach, and you can conclude that Ted Lerner had a lot to do with re-instilling that civic pride in the DC area for their ball club both on and off the field.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa Shark.
When Mr. Lerner gave his World Series victory celebration speech in front of the U.S. Capitol on November 2, 2019, he referred to himself as “Grandpa Shark,” an ode to one of the characters in the Nationals theme song that year, “Baby Shark.”
I think many Nats fans probably saw in Mr. Lerner a little bit of their own father or grandfather. I know I did.