- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

The other finalists in the running to purchase the Washington Nationals expressed regret they couldn’t be in the position of Ted and Mark Lerner and family, who yesterday were introduced as the first owners of the franchise.

“I’m disappointed,” said Jeff Smulyan, the former owner of the Seattle Mariners who led a group that bid for the relocated and renamed Montreal Expos.

“I think we would have done a great job as owners,” added Smulyan, who, though close to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, did not get the club. “But we respect the process and the decision. We wish the Lerners well. Things will settle down, and everything will be fine.”

Smulyan, the chief operating officer of Emmis Communications Corp., owned the Mariners from 1989 to 1992. He also made a run for the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago but dropped out of the bidding.

The Washington Baseball Club, a bid group led by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, had been working since 1999 to bring baseball to the District. The partnership yesterday issued a statement praising baseball’s decision to select a local owner in the Lerners, who are longtime real estate developers in the Washington metropolitan area.

“Seven years ago we partnered with the city to return the national pastime to the nation’s capital,” the group said. “Now in its second year, the Washington Nationals franchise has already become a great source of pride and unity for the entire region.

“We have enjoyed the opportunity to meet the commissioner, team owners and other baseball executives. We always felt that local ownership was a priority for the team, and we believe MLB has selected a good, strong, local family to lead the Nationals. We congratulate the Lerners and pledge our full support to ensuring that baseball is ingrained into the fabric of this city.”

Another prominent local developer who also bid on the Nationals, Franklin L. Haney, also expressed disappointment.

“On behalf of my entire family, I offer our heartiest congratulations and best wishes to the Lerners upon their selection as the owners of the Washington Nationals,” Haney said. “Our disappointment in not being selected as the new owner of the Nats is tempered by our belief that the Lerners and their group will be outstanding owners of the team and that they are committed to establishing a baseball legacy of excellence and community service in the District.”

Still, there was much pain for some bidders, such as Washington attorney Stephen Porter, one of the investors in the Washington Baseball Club. Porter, a key player in assembling the initial investors for the partnership, also bid for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays expansion franchise in 1995 and lost.

“My view of it is that it should have been done faster,” Porter said. “Dragging it on this long made it more agonizing. But we entered into a competition, and we knew what the rules were. It’s not as if we went in with our eyes closed. We knew the commissioner was going to make the decision. I know the Lerner family. I know Ted Lerner very well. He is a decent guy and a man of high integrity.

“I wish it could have been us, but the model of ownership we had was not the one the commissioner favored. And that’s the way it is.”

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