Baseball BeatOctober 13, 2008
Nationalize the Nationals of the National League
By Rich Lederer

If Washington is going to bail out Bear Stearns & Co., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, then it may as well bail out the Nationals, too. I mean, why not? Aren't the Nats just as important to Washington and inept as those four financial firms?

Well, whether the Nationals are nationalized or not probably makes little difference as the club has faltered under the ownership of Major League Baseball as well as the Lerner family. Private, quasi-private, or public, I don't think it much matters.

If you're looking for failure, try these facts on for size. The Nationals...

  • failed to sign their first-round draft pick Aaron Crow,
  • finished with the worst record in the majors,
  • compiled the lowest attendance in the first year of a new ballpark in the post-Camden Yards era, and
  • produced the lowest TV and radio ratings in all of baseball.

Oh, and two weeks ago, the Nationals fired five of its six coaches (all but pitching coach Randy St. Claire). That's right, Pat Corrales (bench), Tim Tolman (third base), Jerry Morales (first base), Rick Aponte (bullpen), and Lenny Harris (hitting) were all booted. The club also dismissed strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka and video coordinator Tom Yost. I guess somebody or a bunch of bodies had to be the scapegoats as the owners, team president Stan Karsten, general manager Jim Bowden, and manager Manny Acta obviously were not to be blamed.

Other than all that, the organization had about as good of a year as those in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

The only consolation to this year's disastrous season is that the Nationals now own the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Washington also has the No. 9B selection as compensation for not coming to terms with Crow by the August 15 deadline (or September 22 if you're a client of agent Scott Boras).

The first prize could be a big one. While lots can happen between now and June, there is little doubt that the top prospect at the moment is righthander Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State. Strasburg, 20, was the only college player to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic baseball team in Beijing this past summer. The San Diego native leapt onto the national scene when he struck out 23 against the University of Utah at Tony Gwynn Stadium on April 11. While the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder's fastball has been known to reach triple digits, many scouts rank his knee-buckling curveball as his #1 pitch. Strasburg also throws a slider that touches the high-80s.

Strasburg won't come cheap as his "advisor" is none other than uber-agent Boras. Knowing that the Nats would face a public relations dilemma if the club failed to sign its No. 1 pick two years running, you can count on Boras using such leverage when asking for perhaps as much as an eight-figure MLB contract next summer.

Although I thought the Lerners once owned the largest stake in MBNA, the credit card behemoth, I was informed by Chris Needham, the proprietor of the former blog Capitol Punishment, the family that owns the Nationals is of the same name but different. Instead, Ted Lerner is the founder of Lerner Enterprises, the largest private real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While the other Lerner family sold out to Bank of America a few years ago, these Lerners are apparently learning on the job. The Lerner family is a minority partner in Lincoln Holdings, LLC group, which owns 100 percent of the NHL Washington Capitals and the WNBA Washington Mystics and 44 percent of the NBA Washington Wizards and Verizon Center. I'll let you be the judge as to whether any of these franchises have been successful.

Where's Barack Obama and his promises of change when (and where) you need it most?


I think that that Lerner family is a different Lerner family.

This one got their money through developing just about every mall in the DC area.

You would know, Chris. I re-worked that paragraph above. Thanks.


Attendance figures and TV/radio numbers need to be understood in context, I think. This is a market that hadn't had baseball for thirty-four years. It's going to take time (and wins) to create a baseball culture in D.C.
Don't forget that MLB left the Expo's/Nats with a depleted farm system and lack of quality major leaguers, as well. I've had a twenty game plan (forty the first year) since the team arrived and drive over two hours to games. Maybe I'm naive/stupid, but I'm excited about the idea of building from the ground (farm system) up--I much prefer this to a revolving door of free agents (I've had enough of that with Peter A. and the Danny over the years). I hope that patience now will give us a consistent winner.

Good analysis on the Nat's "interest level". I travel quite a bit to D.C. and have been to 9-10 games this Summer. The interest level just isn't there. Redskins mini-camp gets top billing over a Nat's series w/ the Mets !

I would have thought the new stadium would be a novelty for the fan base the entire year. A mid-September Mets series never drew more than 30,000 fans. You'd think there'd be 20,000 NY fans in the DC area !

I realy hope DC baseball kicks in soon. I don't see the Nats climbing out tof the cellar next year either. They just aren't competitive.

Belliard, Milledge, Kearns, Guzman just aren't a solid core to build around.

Disappointing 2008 for the Nats !

As a Nats fan I am use to the harsh words against my pathetic team. With that said, the dismissals of Tolman, Aponte, and Harris were warranted. For the last 200 or so games I have watched, Tolman has sent more runners home unnecessarily than I have ever seen. While it is hard to assign blame to a bullpen coach, I can't tell you how many times I have seen our relievers come into the game not properly warmed up (mind you this could also be due to the aggregate age of the pen, especially after losing Rauch). Harris has been a scapegoat since the first losing streak this year.

In regards to the television viewership, a lot of this can be attributed to the nature of MASN, which broadcasts both the Nationals and Orioles. As part of the deal to move the Expos to Washington, Pete Angelos was able to obtain the majority of the rights to the Nationals on TV. This problem will go on until he dies I am sure. A lot of areas in Virginia don't even have access to MASN. Compounding the problem is the fact that most baseball fans in the greater DC area grew up as Orioles fans. The Nationals will have to wait for an entire generation to grow up before they have a decent sized fanbase.

WIth all this said, the team is still far from being a contender (injuries certainly didn't help this season). They have spent the last few years rebuilding a farm system that was pillaged by the MLB-ownership. Nothing is going to change in DC until they make a few big Free Agent acquisitions, but I don't see that happening until their WHOLE minor league system is fixed (the lower levels did well this year with the GCL Nats and Potomac Nats playing in the championship games).

And just as a side not to the comment by Mike: I believe that the Nationals management views the core as Zimmerman-Milledge-Dukes-Flores. Guzman is a stop gap until our young guys grow up (Smiley Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa). Belliard will not be anything more than a utility man from here on out and Kearns' future as a starter is in question.

Here is to hoping the Nats can sign Strasburg....

The MBNA Lerner is Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns and Aston Villa. His ownership style bears no resemblance to Ted's.