Nationals Diamond Gala
With no less than fi ve out of eight competing owners groups on hand, the evening had all the makings of a showdown at the OK Corral. But the competitors were gracious sportsmen and the evening turned into an intimate opportunity to rub elbows with the new kids in town: The Nationals (yes, every player), looking dapper in their fitted tuxedos at the fi rst ever Washington Life-sponsored Nationals Diamond Gala on September 29 at the Mandarin Oriental.
Still, the electricity was palpable, particularly as manager Frank Robinson (who attended with wife, Barbara Ann and daughter, Nichelle) and Commissioner Bud Selig have openly stated that “comfort” with the new owners is a key consideration to who will hold the title to the Washington Nationals.
The potential players are competing to pay $450 million for the privilege to purchase The Nationals. The line up included Fred Malek, who heads up The Washington Baseball Club with Jeff Zients, and a host of prominent area businessmen including Winston Lord. Mayor Anthony Williams, also in attendance that night, has publicly supported the Malek and Zients group owning the team. However, Malek, one of the favored frontrunners, declared, “Whoever it is will have my full, undivided support.”
Many believe that the Ted Lerner family, real-estate moguls from Bethesda and part owners of the Capitals, are also an ideal pick and in the running for the title as their list of investors is mainly a family aff air with Lerner’s son Mark and his two sons-in-law.
Developer Franklin Haney, Sr. has made a strong bid as well and showed up with his entire family, magnanimously announcing that he would match the evening’s fundraising proceeds dollar for dollar up to $600,000. The night netted $ 820,000 to fund baseball clubs for underprivileged children.
Albert Lord, chairman of Sallie Mae, and William Collins (who attended high school in Washington) are also in the running, leading a group of Virginia businessmen interested in buying the team.
Jonathan Ledecky, together with investor George Soros, has also entered the fray with a matching offer.
On the long list of potential buyers is Yusef Jackson, son of Rev. Jesse Jackson, as well as grocery store billionaire Ronald Burkle, both of whom missed the night’s festivities and are considered longshots.
Lacking a hometown advantage, Indianapolis media mogul Jeff Smulyan, missed the event as well but nevertheless is rumored to be a serious contender because of his strong relationship with Selig. A decision is expected to be announced this month or defi nitely before Christmas.
PHOTOS BY JONAH KOCH