October 9, 2006

The (New) Owner's Cheap, The Stadium's a Dump and All the Players are Broken

Somebody needs to be hired, fired, signed, cut, indicted or elected Rookie of the Year right quick. The Natmosphere is growing restless.

You can't leave a Nats blogger alone for too long. We are by nature a skittish and mildly paranoid bunch. Not as downtrodden as Cubbie fans, who honestly think they're cursed by a goat, and maybe not even as paranoid as Yanqui fans, who must be starting to think that Alex Rodriguez is a $250M practical joke foisted upon then by the rest of baseball. But after decades of heartbreaking near-misses and two years of MLB mismanagement, if the average Nats fan doesn't have a bit of the whipped puppy syndrome, it just means they aren't paying attention.

We've been conditioned to lap up every scrap of available information, (Who's the front-running ownership group? What's the vote breakdown on the DC Council's stadium plan? Who's playing CF this month?) and when the information dries up, well rumor, innuendo and speculation are Washington's real pastime. If
Julius Caesar had a Nats blogger reading his chicken entrails, not only would he not have left the house on the Ides of March, he would have sealed the place up with duct tape and plastic sheeting, loaded his shotgun and put a load of buckshot into Casca, reserving the second barrel for Brutus himself. Or so we like to think.

In truth, we operate in an information vacuum that is nearly complete. We know what we read, and what we are told, which is almost always second-hand information at best. But we're dedicated and resourceful, and genuinely want to be useful sources of information for each other and Nats fans everywhere. So we do what we can to analyze and validate the information we're given, and struggle mightly to come up with something new and interesting to say that also has a chance of being correct. And then, every once in a while,
a story like this comes along.

It seems the Lerner family, the new owners of our somewhat beloved Nationals, are businesspeople. This comes as a shock to certain segments of the community, who were under the entirely reasonable misapprehension that professional sports owners are made of equal parts gumdrops, rainbows and disposable income. The most recent manifestation of this unsettling bottom-line orientation is the Lerner's focus on the new Southeast stadium. For reasons passing understanding, the family is pushing to have the stadium open on time and on budget, a stance which conflicts (to some extent) with DC's larger redevelopment goals for the neighborhood.

I have enough to say about the stadium in the wider context of redeveloping Southeast that I'll save it for another post, at another time. But I do want to talk about how this approach to the stadium project affects public perceptions of the new owners. For starters, take a look at
Capitol Punishment's take on the situation. Chris Needham's a bright guy, and no latecomer to the "Potential Cheapskate Alert" bandwagon. He takes a balanced, thoughtful look at the available evidence. The comments below his post are much more instructive.

There is a certain segment of the Nats fanbase that doesn't like the Lerners. Some people preferred the Malek ownership group, perhaps having been guests at one of Fred's puppy-BBQs. Others find the lack of Ben's Chili Bowl half-smokes at RFK a sure sign of owner indifference. Still others are apparently peeved that the Lerners didn't just hand out gold bricks to fans during the Grand Reopening Weekend. After all, with a net worth of $1.5 billion the cheap bastards could surely have afforded it. And some have examined the available evidence and concluded that the Lerners show early signs of joining Calvin Griffith, Bob Short,
Vince Naimoli, Carl Pohlad school of sports ownership, characterized by an unhealthy fascination with profit margins at the expense of fielding a competitive club.

Unfortunately there does appear to be some justification for this concern. The team was unwilling, for whatever reason, to commit the money necessary to sign rookies
Sean Black and Dustin Dickerson, who opted for college instead. Jim Bowden is already laying the groundwork for the Nats absence from the 2007 free agency free-for-all. And the Lerners haven't shown any inclination to splurge on that lovely limestone stadium facade that we all registered for at Crate & Barrel.

But is any of this enough to prove that we're to be eternally relegated to watching a shoddy "Tampa Bay North" team in a cheap, slapped together stadium amidst a sea of surface parking, while near Southeast DC is reclaimed by auto-body shops and gay nightclubs as the Lerner family laughs all the way to their next suburban shopping mall project? Not hardly. The Lerners just spent $450M, they're going to own the team for quite some time. We'll have plenty of time to sharpen the pitchforks and light the torches.



Brandon Kriner said...

I find the whole "Lerner's a cheapskate" routine tired and disingenuous. If throwing money away on parking that D.C. has agreed, in writing, to provide is being cheap, then so be it.

And how many bandwagon-riding Nats fans would forget all about the garages if Lerner bought five years of Soriano tomorrow?

Fans are fickle. Billionaires are fickle too, but they are billionaires.

Chris Needham said...

I find the "People say this extreme position that nobody actually said" position tiring, too, Brandon.

Stick to the facts and the arguments actually being made.

Anonymous said...

The Nats are done. Take a break, root for the Tigers. Come back in April.