- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

With Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig expected to name a new owner for the Washington Nationals within days, bidding groups are scrambling to find ways to use their minority investors to get an edge.

Some groups, particularly that of Indianapolis communications executive Jeff Smulyan, are touting their black members as potential front office executives, and others quietly have added prominent minorities to their ranks. It’s all part of last-ditch efforts by groups to curry favor with Selig, who has stated his desire for more diversity in baseball.

“There are a lot of issues that Selig looks at, and I think this is probably getting more attention than it warrants,” said one industry source with knowledge of the ownership selection process. “But make no mistake, the minority issue is a very important issue to Selig. Moving the issue to the front and center was a very smart strategy by Jeff Smulyan. He knew it was one of the strengths he had.”

The league has said all eight of the bidding groups remain in contention. Sources with knowledge of the process said Selig will select either a group led by the family of local real estate mogul Ted Lerner or a group led by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients. But others said Smulyan is still in the running, and he and members of the group said they believe they are still among the favorites.

MLB president Bob DuPuy was in the District yesterday meeting with new members of the Lerner group. It is believed to be the final meeting with bidders before Selig selects an owner, perhaps as soon as week’s end.

All three leading groups have prominent black investors. The Smulyan group has gained the most attention with former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, Radio One executive Alfred Liggins, local businessmen William and Ernie Jarvis and former Washington Redskins Calvin Hill, Art Monk and Charles Mann. The minority partners are expected to contribute more than 25 percent of the $450million sale price for the team.

Smulyan said yesterday he would name a minority as president of the team if Selig were to select his group and that Holder is on a short list of candidates.

The Lerner group came under fire earlier this month from high-level MLB sources who said it lacked minority involvement. Members of the team attempted to lure minority investors from other groups but were unsuccessful, sources said.

The group has declined to reveal any information about its team to the media. But the Lerner group was expected to add minorities as part of a merger of bids with former Atlanta Braves executive Stan Kasten, and people close to the team said its minority investors include Rodney E. Slater, a secretary of transportation under President Bill Clinton, and B. Doyle Mitchell, president and chief executive of Industrial Bank.

The effort to add minority investors late in the game has irked some competing bidders.

“It irritates me that at the 11th hour people are sort of looking for blacks,” Hill said. “If it hasn’t been an integral part of what they were about, then it’s window dressing. Jeff’s a white guy from Indianapolis, but to be sure, he understands substantive inclusion, not just inclusion for tokenism.”

The Malek/Zients group made headlines last year when it announced the involvement of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Fannie Mae executive Franklin Raines and prominent D.C. lawyer Vernon Jordan. The group recently added Anthony A. Lewis, chairman-elect of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and president of Verizon Communications in D.C., as well as Howard University president H. Patrick Swygert.

Such involvement has impressed many city officials who have favored the Malek/Zients group. But it’s unclear whether Selig has been moved. Improving baseball’s record on minority involvement in the sport has been among Selig’s key initiatives. In 1999, he began requiring teams to notify him of certain job openings and required teams to submit a list of minority candidates for his review.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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