WASHINGTON — Ted Lerner, who became the principal owner of the Washington Nationals, has died. Lerner, who brought baseball back to D.C. when he purchased the Nationals in 2006, passed away at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland on Sunday due to complications from pneumonia. He was 97 years old.
The Nats, formerly the Montreal Expos, spent the first year of their lifespan in D.C. owned by Major League Baseball itself, before the orphan team found the perfect adopted parent fit in real estate developer Lerner. Lerner purchased the fledgling team from the MLB for $450 million.
Lerner beat out seven bidders (including former Seattle Mariners owner Jeffrey Smulyan, Jesse Jackson's son Yusef Jackson and an investor group led by Fred Malek) due to the family nature of his bid which included his son Mark Lerner, and sons-in-law Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum.
Lerner was one of Maryland's eight billionaires. His net worth was estimated at $6.6 million. He started his empire, Lerner Enterprises, in 1952 with a simple $250 loan from his wife, Annette Lerner, selling real estate on the weekends through law school to support his widowed mother. He went on to become the largest private landowner in the DMV and built area landmarks such as Tysons II, Dulles Town Center and Wheaton Plaza.
Lerner retired from his role as Managing Principal Owner in 2018, ceding control to his son Mark Lerner. The Lerner family remains the majority owners of the team.
More than a decade after buying the team, the Nationals beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2019. No team from Washington had been a World Series champion since 1924.
Last year, the Lerner family announced they had hired a firm to find potential investors to buy part or all of the Nationals. Forbes valued the team at $2 billion.
The Nationals issued a statement about Lerner's passing on Monday.
"He cherished the franchise and what it brought to his beloved hometown," the statement reads in part.
"In addition to his many accomplishments in business and in sports, Ted Lerner championed the creation of opportunities for all residents of the region and was instrumental in the foundation of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, which provides year-round programming and resources in one of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. Mr. Lerner led by example through his family’s own private philanthropy and set the tone for the ball club’s company-wide culture of giving, which still extends into the clubhouse, front office and in the stands. He was honored with the Washington Nationals Philanthropies “Power of Baseball Award” in 2022 in recognition of the many ways he’s improved the city of Washington, D.C. and the lives of its residents," the team said in a press statement.
A founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ted Lerner was awarded the Golden Plate Award of Excellence from the American Academy of Achievement in 1990. He was a member of the Washington Business Hall of Fame (2003), The George Washington University School of Business Sports Executives Hall of Fame (2007), Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington Sports Hall of Fame (2007) and Washington D.C. Sports Hall of Fame (2014). He received the Thomas G. Corcoran Award by the University Club of D.C in 2014, and in 2015 was awarded the Urban Land Institute Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2018, The Lerner Cohen Tanenbaum family received the Pollin Humanitarian Award from the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.