MLB dismisses Nationals sale report

MLB dismisses Nationals sale report

Major League Baseball denied a report on Wednesday generated by a Washington, D.C., television station that Commissioner Bud Selig had decided to sell the Washington Nationals to a group headed by Theodore and Mark Lerner.

In a Wednesday morning posting on the Web site, the station said its sports director had been told by sources that the Lerner family had won an eight-group bidding process for the team and would take over next month.

"There has been unfortunate speculation rampant in the media in Washington, D.C., [Wednesday] that Commissioner Selig has selected one particular group to acquire the Washington Nationals and that a press announcement would be made this Friday," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer.

"Those rumors are baseless. No decision has been made to date. The Commissioner and I continue to meet with representatives of the groups and there will be an official announcement when the decision is made."

The only arbitrary deadline at this point is the next quarterly meetings, scheduled for May 17-18 in New York, where the owners hope to approve the sale of the franchise. But the process could be concluded as early as next week.

Two local groups, headed by Lerner and Fred Malek, a former minority partner of the Texas Rangers, are considered to be the finalists, with Jeff Smulyan, once the owner of the Seattle Mariners, being seen as a third option.

The sale of the team, which relocated from Montreal to Washington after the 2004 season, reportedly could be in excess of $450 million.

The Lerners, who were recently paired with Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves, met with DuPuy on Monday in the nation's capital to introduce recent additions to its ownership group from the minority community. On Tuesday, Malek, Jeffery Zients and three new minority partners flew to Milwaukee to meet with Selig and DuPuy.

Many major Washington politicos, including Mayor Anthony Williams, have told MLB that they support Malek, who was a major force behind the scenes the past few years during the process of drawing baseball back to the District. Williams said recently that Malek's group was well situated to follow through on MLB's recently signed 30-year lease agreement with the city to build a $611 million ballpark on the waterfront just south of the Capitol.

High profile African-Americans, such as Colin Powell and Vernon Jordan, have long been members of Malek's group.

The Lerners have built a real-estate empire in suburban Washington and, as one of the main shareholders of Puck Holdings, are already ingrained in the local professional sports culture. That entity owns the majority of the NHL's Capitals and a minority share in the NBA Wizards, the WNBA Mystics and the MCI Center, the downtown arena where all three teams play.

Speculation has run rampant in Washington for the past week that since the twinning of Kasten and Lerner became public, that group was the front-runner to obtain the baseball team, which has been owned and operated by MLB since the moribund Expos were purchased from Jeffery Loria and his partners for $120 million on Feb. 15, 2002. Kasten had previously been part of one of the other groups trying to purchase the team.

The television station said that its sports director, Brett Haber, had spoken on Wednesday to Smulyan, who confirmed the transfer of the team to the Lerners.

"Haber spoke with Smulyan this morning, who confirmed that he, too, has heard the news of the Lerner victory, though not from Major League Baseball directly," the station said in its Web site posting.

The Nationals reacted almost immediately.

Prior to Wednesday afternoon's game against the Cincinnati Reds at RFK Stadium, Tony Tavares, the team's president, told reporters that Selig was "baffled" about the report.

"The Commissioner said that anyone who is saying he received a communication from him, indicating that someone has been selected is not telling the truth," Tavares said. "He is baffled by where something like this might come from because he has not made a decision."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for reporter Bill Ladson contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.