- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The “Washington Nationals Baseball Club” felt compelled, upon the firing of manager Manny Acta, to issue a letter Monday to the “fans of the Washington Nationals.”

This brave and bold statement to the fans included a family-like commitment to a brighter future:

“We know we have a way to go, but the end result will be all the richer for the early days we spent together at Nationals Park. We are getting better. We want you to be with us as the pieces of the puzzle come together. Your support is powerful to the Nationals and baseball in Washington. Thank you for your continuing patience and your commitment to a shared dream.”

Of course, the Lerner family - the owners of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club - chose to make this pledge from a distance.

Not one member of the Lerner family showed up Monday at Nationals Park for the news conference at which the club announced the firing of Acta and the hiring of bench coach Jim Riggleman as the interim manager.

Not one member of the family was there to answer questions about the results of the Lerner tenure, nearly three years after the purchase of the franchise from Major League Baseball.

Not one member of the family was there to explain why the Lerners committed to general manager Jim Bowden for so long even as he dragged the franchise into the abyss.

Not one member of the family was there to explain how the club squandered the good will created by the return of baseball to the District to the point that the franchise, in just its second year in a new ballpark, ranks among the worst in baseball in attendance.

Not one member of the family was there to explain how, after nearly three years of Lerner ownership, the “Washington Nationals Baseball Club” could find itself with an acting general manager and an acting manager.

The fact that the Lerners - the folks who made many of the decisions that led to this moment - deemed their presence unnecessary shows how clueless they are when it comes to public perception.

This hollow statement, they think, should suffice. But the letter isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if the people behind it are not willing to accept questions and explain their actions.

Stan Kasten was at Nationals Park to answer questions and represent ownership. He is the team president and one of the owners.

But it is the members of the Lerner family - Theodore N. Lerner, Annette M. Lerner, Mark D. Lerner, Judy Lenkin Lerner, Edward L. Cohen, Debra Lerner Cohen, Robert K. Tanenbaum and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum - who are listed as principal owners in the 2009 team media guide.

Kasten is listed as a “founding partner,” along with Paxton Baker, James Brown, Faye Fields, Alphonso Maldon Jr., B. Doyle Mitchell, Raul Romero, Rodney Slater and Jarvis Stewart.

When I asked Kasten why none of the Lerners attended, he replied: “Because I am the team president, and this is my responsibility. I am ultimately responsible for everything that goes on here, and I accept all of the blame.”

If that is the case - if Kasten truly is “responsible for everything that goes on here” - you have to wonder why he still has a job, right?

Of course, Kasten is not responsible for turning the Nationals into a baseball industry joke. That accomplishment belongs to writers of the letter - people who chose to stay out of sight Monday.

But Kasten is paying the price for their mistakes. It is his credibility and his legacy as one of the most successful sports executives of his time that is on the line.

Kasten’s tenure with three Atlanta sports franchises produced 30 postseason appearances between the Hawks and Braves.

But here he is, faced with the reality that, after three years of ownership, the Nationals are worse off than they were when the ownership group of which he is a part purchased the club.

Yet Kasten still managed to find a way to describe this three-year period as “fruitful and productive.”

Kasten was asked whether, after three years with the Lerners and now with an acting general manager and an acting manager, the club is starting all over again.

“I really don’t think that,” Kasten said. “I do think we are very close to realizing the fruits of three very hard years of effort. When I see people write about our team recently, I see they write, ‘They have now amassed a core of young, future starters, but then they have all these other problems.’ … Let’s not gloss over that. It is hard to amass a core of young future starters. That took us time. I always believed that was the most important thing. That was job one. Once we have a consistent rotation, everything else gets easier. …

“The last three years haven’t been a waste, because it took us that time to assemble the pieces that are starting to materialize as big parts of our future. To that extent, it has been a very fruitful and productive three years.”

It only has been a “very fruitful and productive” period if the next three years are fruitful and productive.

The letter writers say they will be.

They’re just not willing to say so to your face.

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