Thom Loverro: Nats franchise is no jewel

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On the Lerner Enterprises Web site, the entry regarding its 2006 acquisition of the Washington Nationals quotes owner Ted Lerner discussing his commitment to the franchise.

“I plan on doing everything I can do to make sure this franchise becomes an international jewel for Major League Baseball, the nation, D.C. and its wonderful fans,” Ted Lerner said.

Oh, it’s a jewel all right. But as Johnny Depp said to Al Pacino in the film “Donnie Brasco” - it’s a fugazy.

In other words, a fake, a phony.

More than two years after the Lerners took ownership of the team, the Washington Nationals don’t even qualify as cubic zirconia.

By nearly any measurement possible, this baseball season has been a train wreck. The major league club is on pace to lose more than 100 games - the worst record for any team opening a new ballpark since Camden Yards opened in Baltimore in 1992. The attendance will finish at 2.4 million - the second lowest of any team opening a new ballpark in the Camden Yards era.

No one is watching. No one is listening. People are leaving.

It is taking its toll.

Remember when baseball commissioner Bud Selig talked about the “family” model that made the Lerners such attractive owners when they were awarded the team in May 2006?

You can almost define the divisions within the organization between the Lerner family and everyone who is not a Lerner.

Key people on the business administration side are leaving, and the talk is that team president Stan Kasten - the key baseball man who joined the Lerner ownership group in the final stretch run for the bid - clearly has not been taken in as a member of the “family” when it comes to making decisions.

Disgruntled employees are looking for a way out as well. Morale within the organization - which should be high given the new ballpark - is alarmingly low.

“People are just miserable,” an industry source told The Washington Times on a condition of anonymity because he does business with the team. “There’s going to be a lot of people following them.”

And the fans soon could follow. It is difficult to imagine the team maintaining its season-ticket base at this year’s level after such a pathetic campaign and the public relations fallout the team has taken from, among other things, refusing to pay its rent to the city in a contract dispute.

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