Jeff Smulyan must really want to own the Washington Nationals.
How badly does he want to own this franchise? He had coffee with me yesterday morning.
Now, I am pretty far down the food chain of people he has to convince. But apparently he has made his pitch to nearly everyone else in town, so he finally got to me.
If you happen to meet someone on the Metro tonight shaking hands and telling you he’d be a great baseball owner, it’s probably Smulyan. He’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy wearing the “I’m not Bob Short” sign around his neck.
He might also ask if you want to invest in his bid, though by all accounts he has the money to foot the bill himself with his Indianapolis communications empire. But he is trying to erase the District’s version of the Scarlet Letter — or letters, in this case: NL, as in Not Local.
Not long ago, Smulyan added to his bid group Radio One communications executive Alfred C. Liggins III and lawyer Richard Wiley, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He said yesterday he has since added others, including former Redskins Art Monk and Charles Mann and former Dallas Cowboy Calvin Hill.
There’s one problem, though. Bill Collins, who also is leading a bid group for the Nationals, believes Monk and Mann still are investors in his group.
“As far as I know, they are part of our community partners,” Collins said. “They are no longer Class A partners, but part of our Class B community partners.”
Neither Monk nor Mann could be reached for comment. Perhaps they were being wooed by the six other bidders for the franchise.
If there is confusion, you can attribute it to the presence of Smulyan in the bidding. It has thrown the process of determining who baseball will pick to own the Nationals into a tizzy.
Those who figured Smulyan was just a stalking horse used to drive up the price of the Nats have been taken aback by his quick emergence as perhaps the favorite.
If Smulyan is a stalking horse, well, he is going to the whip and riding hard. He is not afraid to use his less-than-three-year tenure as owner of the Seattle Mariners — stormy though it was — to make his case for owning the Nationals.
“We believe if the issue is who is best to manage this franchise and who will be the best stewards in this community and make baseball an integral part of this community, we believe we win hands down,” Smulyan said. “We have done it. It is a very challenging proposition. Having done other businesses is not quite like baseball. But there are probably more parallels in broadcasting and baseball, and we have done both.”
Some would say he didn’t do the baseball part well in Seattle.
Smulyan bought the franchise from Southern California real estate developer George Argyros in October 1989 for $76 million and showed an ability to promote the team, putting in place a number of innovative marketing features.