Opinion: New Owner Would Ease Tensions

Whether it's Fred Malek or somebody else, the Washington Nationals need a real owner. Somebody who can make decisions for now and down the road. Otherwise, the Nationals will continue to implode both on and off the field.

The Washington Nationals are a team that is falling apart at the seems. On the field, the product has been weak. Off the field, there has been the Alfonso Soriano debacle, a heated argument between the team president and a player and lots of communicating - if you can call it that - through the media. It's messy to say the least.

Word is that an announcement could come almost at any time on who the new owner of the Nationals will be. It appears that the group of potential owners has been narrowed to three: The Lerner family - headed by patriarch Theodore Lerner - Fred Malek's group, which was one of the first in on the bidding and a group led by media executive Jeffrey Smulyan. Lerner's group could also bring on Stan Kasten - former president of the Braves and other Atlanta sports entities - as part of their group, seemingly strengthening their bid.

Malek has taken a bit of a beating in the press lately and all three groups have flaws. In case you missed it, a young Fred Malek was arrested in an incident involving a dead dog and a barbecue pit - 'nuff said. Oh yeah, there's that nasty stuff involving the Securities and Exchange Commission, which wasn't the stuff of a 22 year old Malek, but of a 67 year old Fred Malek. There's a few other things in the intervening 45 years, but who's counting. You have to figure his chances have taken a bit of a hit.

The Lerner group doesn't seem to have enough minority candidates involved and that will certainly hurt them. Bringing Kasten's group under the umbrella should help, but it's unclear just how lilly-white that group may or may not be.

Smulyan could be the winner by default and that's not to say he would be a bad choice. He knows Bud Selig well from his days with the Seattle Mariners and Selig always loves working with old buddies, who are predictable, if nothing else.

Actually, none of this matters. What does matter is that somebody take over the reins of this franchise. Anybody. Okay, maybe not Barry Bonds' personal trainer, but almost anybody!

Tony Taveras, Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson have been the face of the Washington Nationals and before that, the Montreal Expos. Problem is that they're not always on the same page and don't hold the highest respect for each other. Taveras and Robinson don't speak much and it's likely that Taveras would have preferred not to bring Robinson back this season, but letting him go would have been a horrible PR hit for the club. Plus, Selig and his minority hiring push wouldn't have been very happy, either. Keep in mind that all three of these men have the added stress of absolutely no job security. Any combination of them could be gone once a new owner takes over and it's likely that Taveras would be the first to exit.

Maybe that's why Taveras took such exception to Jose Vidro the other day when the Nats second baseman complained about the club's response to the huge outfield distances at RFK. Instead of bringing the fences in over the winter when they realized the power alleys weren't 380 feet, but were much closer to 400 feet, the club simply moved the 380 signs out of the power alleys. Great. Taveras and Vidro got in each other's faces outside the Nats clubhouse - which is another bone of contention with the players - in a rather unprofessional display of emotion. It's not the way Taveras or any other front office professional should have handled that situation.

For his part, Vidro backed off the comments somewhat. "It frustrates me when I see one of my teammates and myself hit a ball hard and come up with no result," Vidro said. "But hey, we have to deal with it. Teams come here and score some runs using the same ballpark. We got to find a way," said Vidro.

Then, there's Jim Bowden and his threats to release or trade any number of players to improve the club. Again, a public display that wasn't necessary. It was fuel to the fire and the team didn't respond on the field. After all, when your franchise is crumbling and it's not a happy place to play, threatening to send players elsewhere isn't much of a threat.

Frank Robinson has pretty much stayed above it all. He's been the wise, old sage of the club. If he has shown any fault at all, it's that he hasn't had his player's backs as much as he has in the past. Of course, being the wise, old sage, perhaps Robinson dealt with the Taveras and Vidro confrontation behind closed doors.

Any way that you look at it, the Washington Nationals need an owner. The situation is getting dire and only a strong, steady hand can right this dead-in-the-water ship.

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