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Malek Group May Be Front-runner To Buy Nationals

[November 2nd] -- Whispers coming from baseball's version of "deep-throat" indicate that the ownership group led by Washingtonian Fred Malek has inched into the lead and may, MAY be introduced as the Nationals' new owner during the winter owner's meetings in Milwaukee November 16th - 17th.

Perhaps the just concluded Harriet Meiers fiasco made Bud finally understand what happens to leaders in Washington who alienate their base.

Indiana native Jeff Smulyan, close friend of White Sox owner Jerry Reisendorf, has remained in the lime-light all summer, crowned by the media as the Nationals' "heir-apparent" because of his "insider" status with major league baseball. Smulyan owned the Seattle Mariners in the late 1980's and early 1990's. No doubt he was the top choice of Selig and Reisendorf to purchase the team, but MLB officials again showed how "out of the loop" they could be and were totally unprepared for the anti-Smulyan backlash by D.C. officials and fans of the team. Washington holds the distinction of losing not one, but two baseball franchises. An "outsider" at the helm of the Nationals might very well drive away a portion of the fan base, leaving them to mutter, "Why get attached to the team when they're just going to leave again." In recent weeks, Smulyan has attempted to address these concerns, offering to give any of the local investors veto power in any attempted future move.

Some interesting facts about the Malek group:

Major League Baseball officials especially like Jeffrey Zients as Malek's number two man. Zients, 38, has impressed the committee with his understanding of even the most minor aspects of running a professional sports franchise. Malek would control the group for three years, then turn day-to-day operations over to Zients.

At first blush, it would seem unfair that Malek's deep roots within the Republican party are of no concern to anyone while George Soros, a major investor in another ownership group, has been criticized for his ties to the Democratic party. I think it makes perfect sense. George Soros has been very open and critical of not only Republicans but also many of the traditions of the American nation. He has spent millions of his own dollars trying to effect the outcome of both national and local elections. Malek, on the other hand, has kept his politics behind the scenes, remaining an unknown quantity to the fans. I support both men's beliefs and the way the express them, but from a purely business perspective, Malek's politics are less threatening to the typical baseball fan than Soros'.

More than likely, any of the ownership groups would do a credible job managing the Washington Nationals. But in a world often devoid of "fair play," it just seems right to give Fred Malek the opportunity to own the team. He was ready to purchase the team five years before there was a team to purchase. He kept the idea of major league baseball in Washington alive when others took a decidedly "wait and see" attitude. He is one of us, and understands the ways and means of a city like Washington that an outsider never could.

Owning a major league baseball team isn't like owning a drug store or an insurance agency. The people of the city believe that they share ownership of the team, that purchasing a ticket is akin to buying a share of stock. Local ownership helps create that type of bond between fan and team while absentee ownership destroys it. It becomes "theirs" instead of "ours." And make no mistake: the Nationals are ours.

I think Bud is finally beginning to understand that. Finally.

Unfortunately Malek didn't win the team. But he's a really good sport about it. There's an interview of him being very gracious about the new owners. Fred Malek on Presidents Race, Geckos and Baseball.
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