Nationals' Minority Owners Revel in Team's Success

Barrington M. Salmon | 2/20/2013, 10:06 a.m.

Maldon said Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was adamant that any of the groups chosen to operate a team in Washington have significant minority partners.

Following the sale of the team to the Lerners, Selig said, "diversity is important to me. It's critical to our sport. I think it's certainly critical in Washington, D.C., to have good minority ownership."

Mitchell, head of the largest black-owned commercial bank in the Washington area, said there clearly were reasons for Selig's mandate.

"Major League Baseball traditionally has not been terribly diversified, particularly at the ownership level," he said. "One of the reasons is that [the number] of African Americans in the sport has declined over the years. There's been an all-around effort to increase the sport in the inner cities and among blacks."

"The criteria for choosing minority owners was to find people who wanted to be a part of ownership and who had credibility and visibility in the community. That was the biggest thing," said Maldon. "They had to be interested in the city and wanted to grow African-American ownership. That was the thought process behind it, for some people to serve as role models."

Mitchell, who said he walked away from the first opportunity to become part-owner, said he and his colleagues meet at least once a year to hear how the team is doing.

"They [the owners] listen to the founding partners quite a bit. We encourage senior management to bring in minority vendor contracts," he said. "We have not felt [as if] we've been treated like outsiders. If we ask a question, we get answers. I like being a partner, I really do. Being in the room with these individuals is important. [But] the main perk is the value of your investment increasing."

The men talked about the bonds that are forged among members.

"This has been great for us to get to know each other," Maldon said. "We have great respect for each other. We all have busy lives. We don't drink every week but whenever we see each other, we have a great time."

Maldon, who led and managed the group of investors who eventually made a bid to purchase the franchise, said the entire group had "the right recipe."

"I think this group had everything. The Lerners, a family-owned business who had that reputation, the right credibility, the right visibility and people who knew our way around the city," he said. "We could be the voice for the team and influence the process."

Baker, a 51-year-old who runs BET's Centric TV, said he happened upon the opportunity to become a minority owner and in retrospect is glad he joined the venture.

"Well, I wasn't approached. My dentist Ronnie Rosenberg told me of the opportunity in March 2006," said Baker, a Pittsburgh native. "He approached the Lerners on my behalf. From my side, I'm such a fan of baseball. I played shortstop, collected baseball cards and loved Charlie Finley and the Oakland A's."

Baker, who grew up in Compton, Calif., said he used to always look to see the number of blacks on teams and called it "a wonderful opportunity to be a part of this which for a million years I never dreamed I'd be a part of."

He said he came in with no pre-conceived notions and so far, everything has played out as he envisioned.

"The Lerners said I could be as involved or un-involved as I wanted to be," said the married father of three. "I participated in some things, observed others. I did the deal to bring Ben's [Chili Bowl] to the stadium. I worked with all parties to make this happen. It took time, effort, energy. It is a landmark to have one of our pre-eminent Washington businesses there. It showed the general public that we were welcome there and we made sure Ben's was in the best location in the park."