TINSMAN: Nats give Ted Lerner a 94th birthday for the ages

Brian Tinsman
October 16, 2019 - 9:16 am
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As the Washington Nationals players and families mobbed the infield after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, there was an elder statesman in the heart of the celebration.

Nationals owner Ted Lerner finally got the birthday present he always wanted, and hopefully, the satisfaction of knowing that none of this was possible without him.

After all, it was Lerner who bought the team from Major League Baseball in 2006, knowing what a winner could do for this city. He remembered D.C.'s last World Series championship back in 1933 and even attended the 1937 All-Star Game at the age of 12.

Lerner was a heartbroken fan when two iterations of the Senators left in the 1960s and 1970s. Even as he built the real estate empire that makes him one of Forbes' richest billionaires, he had his eye on bringing baseball back to the nation's capital.

"It's something I've been thinking about all my life," he quipped after buying the team, "from the time I used to pay 25 cents to sit in the bleachers at Griffith Stadium."

It was Lerner who had a vision for Nationals Park and the ripple effect that redevelopment would have around Navy Yard. It was Lerner who hired Mike Rizzo to oversee personnel and baseball operations and signed off on the hiring of manager Dave Martinez.

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In a city with some of the best and worst examples of team ownership, Lerner has consistently stayed on the former side of the tracks, hiring the right people, spending freely and staying out of the way.

Compared to Dan Snyder and Ted Leonsis, Lerner has been a relative hermit and passed that ownership style along to his successors. You also might be surprised to know (because he doesn’t talk about it) that Lerner is an investor in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, helping Leonsis build winners in the Capitals and Mystics.

At 94 years young, Lerner no longer oversees operations of the team, ceding that to his son, Mark, in June 2018. But Mark is keenly aware of how much the team means to his father and hoped that he could deliver the best present ever.

"It is certainly a magical ride we are on," he told the Washington Times before the game. "I would love for that to be a birthday present."

Like father, like son, Mark understands that a steady hand in the owner's box is important for building winners. That's why he never panicked when the 2019 Nats started 19-31, and claims that he never considered parting ways with Martinez.

"Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places," Martinez said on the field after Game 4, "and this is a beautiful place."

Fast-forward 121 games later, and the Nationals are headed to the first World Series in franchise history, including the team's time in Montreal. In doing so, they become the last National League team to earn a World Series berth, and not a moment too soon for the elder Lerner.

No doubt, he'll be watching next week when the Nats take the field against the winner of the ALCS. Nothing would be sweeter than ending this roller-coaster season at the top of the ride.

In the meantime, he should bask in the afterglow of his best birthday ever, wishing as he blows out the candles that the best is still yet to come.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.