- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Let’s remember one basic fact about Ted Lerner and his people as they make ready to take control of the Washington Nationals.

Talk is cheap.

This is in no way intended to disparage the dedication and motivation of the first people really to run a baseball franchise here since 1971 — only to note that saying you’re going to do something and actually doing it are two different things.

In the political and governing capital of these 50 states, that should be very obvious.

When Lerner and his phalanx of relatives and fellow investors turned up for last night’s packed press conference at the Fairmont Hotel, it had been more than 19 agonizing months since Major League Baseball announced it was moving the Montreal Expos to the District. Wars have been fought in a shorter time, and in a way that’s what the shakedown among eight bidding groups for the Nats resembled.

“The process involved some of the most vicious untruths about people I’ve ever seen, even in political campaigns,” said minority investor James Brown, the former DeMatha High School basketball star and current TV football host. “But it just goes to show that if you do things the right way, things will work out OK.”

Ted Lerner, son Mark and newly named president Stan Kasten talked a very good game at their first joint public appearance. And the elder, notably reclusive Lerner got the biggest laugh of the night when he remarked, “I didn’t know how much a man of mystery I was until I read a few recent newspaper articles.”

Har har. But as Lerner and his people know, there’s nothing funny about the amount of work that needs to be done before the Nats emerge as one of baseball’s premier franchises.

As Kasten remarked before the press conference, incumbent club president Tony Tavares, general manager Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson “have done incredible jobs under the most trying circumstances.” But don’t bet on the Nats keeping any of them.

With Kasten running the baseball operation, Tavares is sort of a fifth wheel. Bowden might have written his own ticket out of town with that DUI arrest in Florida several weeks back. Robinson is heading for his 71st birthday, hardly a milestone at which people welcome long-range construction projects. And after four years in the reluctant hands of MLB, this franchise needs to be built from the ground up — just like the new Anacostia Waterfront ballpark where groundbreaking will take place today.

The best thing about the Lerners, other than their untold millions, is that they’re local. Ted and Mark seemed on the verge of tears as they told how exciting, thrilling and emotional it was to be given stewardship of a ballclub in their hometown. It’s a wonder the spirits of Clark Griffith, Walter Johnson and Bucky Harris didn’t float down (or up) during the proceedings.

As stated from the program and in a press kit handed out by company flacks, the “Lerner Philosophy” is admirable. They have “a passion and a respect for the history of the game that we will honor and promote.” They will “strive for consistent competitive success while exercising prudent business judgment.” They plan to “make it a high priority to return baseball to the inner city through active support of youth baseball programs.” They intend to “work with the commissioner and our fellow owners to[ support initiatives that are in the best interests of the game.”

Best of all, for fans old enough to remember dratted deserters Calvin Griffith and Bob Short, “we will NEVER [their capitals] take the team away from Washington.”

With an agenda like that, why in the name of Abner Doubleday do you suppose it took 582 days to welcome the Lerners into the fraternity?

Perhaps Bud Selig, Bob DuPuy and their lickspittle owners are well aware that talk is cheap.

Once those owners approve the club’s sale in a couple of weeks, the Lerners and Kasten must start converting promises to deeds — the sooner the better.

Ted Lerner, a former usher at Griffith Stadium, made one more promise last night to the area’s baseball fans — a most encouraging one if you take it at face value.

“We will not let you down.”

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