Hail to the Nationals–and to Hometown Ted!

Pity the poor New York Yankees and their fans. A sportswriter for the New York Post lamented that due to the Yankee’s dramatic sixth-game, ninth-inning loss to the Houston Astros the team, which has spent $1 billion on its player payroll, would not get the chance to win its 28th World Series. Well, boohoo.

Sorry, but I have no sympathy for Yankee fans or the team I rooted for as a kid growing up in a Long Island suburb.  I’m a native New Yorker by birth but a Washingtonian by choice. That means I am unashamedly, unapologetically, unabashedly a hardcore fan of the Washington Nationals, who have just won their first league pennant since major league baseball returned to town in 2005 and are World Series-bound for the first time in 86 years.  In this, they are the baseball equivalent of Halley’s Comet, which comes around only every 75-76 years.

Forget about the relief pitchers.  What a relief it is to turn first to the Sports section of my hometown newspaper (which still arrives in our driveway daily).  In these chaotic, tense times, the bad news on the front page is, if not the last thing I want to read, certainly not the first.  Thanks to the Washington Post‘s great baseball beat reporters and columnists, I can simply celebrate the Nats. They’ve been great for this town, a welcome distraction from the stress-inducing craziness that emanates from the top.

Thanks to principal owner Ted Lerner, or “Hometown Ted,” as I called him in a 2007 profile I wrote for Bethesda Magazine.  Ted turned 94 the day the Nats won the pennant. He’s laconic by nature, so I can’t picture him waving a red shirt or wearing a baby shark suit.  His more animated son Mark, who has taken on the public role his dad has largely relinquished but never really relished, is also deserving of praise.  But with the Nats and the Lerners, it’s always been a family affair, with Ted firmly the patriarch in charge.

Before he acquired the Nats, Ted was best known as a major regional developer, who took a flyer on a rural crossroads in 1960 that became Tysons Corner, arguably the economic engine of Northern Virginia.  He went on to build other suburban shopping centers, notably Wheaton Plaza and White Flint Mall in Montgomery County, Landover Mall in Prince George’s, and Washington Square at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW. “You build 150 properties and you do it very quietly,” he told me in 2006, “but you get involved with a baseball team and, as they say, it’s a new ballgame… I’ll probably be remembered for the ball team more than the 100-some projects we built.”

From modest beginnings, he became a billionaire but has never moved from the home he built in 1964 off East West Highway in Chevy Chase to a mega-mansion in posh Potomac or another exclusive enclave.

He graduated from DC’s Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1944, a year after my mother-in-law Charlotte Pearlman.  They traveled in the same circles of native Washingtonians. When we attended a Nats game in the owner’s box at RFK, some of Ted’s high school friends were delighted to learn that my wife was Charlotte Pearlman’s daughter. At Roosevelt, Lerner edited the school paper but was not a gadabout.  The yearbook tagged him “Quiet Ted.”

He was not a tough interview, but he was known to be a hard get, a reclusive rich guy more interested in his family and business than in publicity.   But we bonded over Roosevelt (“Go Rough Riders”) and the unexpected coincidence that I’d once profiled his father-in-law, an aviator and developer who built a small airport community with houses that had hangers, on Kent Island. I’d brought along my story from Chesapeake Bay Magazine, and Ted pulled out two small booklets his wife Annette had written about her father, who lived to be 96.  Annette’s parents had moved from Baltimore to the wilds of lower Montgomery County, where he could land a small plane in his backyard on Dennis Avenue.  There were no Jewish boys at her Silver Spring public school, so they moved into the District, where Annette attended Coolidge High School. She and Ted met at a high school fraternity dance downtown.

Following my Bethesda profile, I have called Ted occasionally, usually to talk about development. Most of what he told me was on background, but sometimes he’d go on the record. We continued to speak from time to time after he brought the team to town.  I remember his excitement when the team acquired Stephen Strasburg in 2009.  It was probably the most animated I’d ever seen him.

As a kid, Ted used to pay 25 cents to watch the Senators play at Griffith Stadium, and he never lost hope that the city would again have its own big league baseball team. That the Nats are now in the World Series is a fitting tribute not only to its aging collection of clutch hitters, strong starting pitchers, reborn veterans and assorted other colorful characters—not to mention manager Davey Martinez—but to Ted Lerner as well.  Win or lose the series, this 2019 team and its ageless owner will go down in history.

Go Nationals!

Image result for ted lerner net worth


  1. Chuck on October 22, 2019 at 8:09 am

    Great story about Hometown Ted. The Astros-Nats lines up to be a great Series, from the starting pitchers to great young players and one tiny player who can deliver the big blow. These two franchises are humbled by miserable pasts. Despite its current run, this Houston franchise lives with its beloved nickname over the years, the Lastros. We remember the miserable seasons, the bad trades. Argh! Ah, thems was the days. Like the Astros, the Nationals found the right chemistry. Should be a first class series.

  2. Chuck on October 22, 2019 at 8:21 am

    One more thing…when those boohoo Yanks fans started in with the “F*** Altuve” chant, I knew this Series was over. Then cameras captured Chapman with that serial killer grin at the end. Kind of a Jack Nicholson moment.

  3. Margaret Engel on October 22, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Great story with an undercurrent about the benefits of longevity in journalism. You’ve covered it all, Gene. Go Nats! All Bethesda Big Train fans are happy that Brian Dozier (played two seasons at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda) is on the team.

Leave a Comment