March 10, 2011
Back in December, when the entire baseball world was freaking out over Jayson Werth's(notes) seven-year, $126 million contract, there was a small group of people trying to calm people down with a simplistic instruction: Relax, Ted Lerner can afford it.
That line, of course, overlooks other issues like smart roster construction and declining player value, but the point was clear. Lerner, the 85-year-old real estate magnate and owner of the Washington Nationals pictured on the right, is rich.
We are talking really rich. Stinkin' rich. Wildly rich. Three billion dollars rich.
According to Forbes' recently released list of the world's billionaires, that total ranks Lerner 376th on the planet and first among the nation of baseball's majority owners. (Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi would have ranked first with $4.6 billion had he not transferred ownership of the Seattle Mariners to the parent company.)
Former lawyer borrowed $300 from wife to start real estate developer Lerner Enterprises in 1952. Made fortune building massive shopping malls in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.: Tysons Corner, Tysons II, Wheaton Plaza, Landover Mall, Dulles Town Center, White Flint. Today owns 20 million square feet of commercial, retail space and 7,000 apartments. Also owns stake in NYC's Chelsea Piers. Moved headquarters to a new 'green' building in Maryland last October. Owns pro baseball's Washington Nationals and small stake in regional broadcaster Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
According to this Forbes list from last year, baseball boasted eight billionaire owners in 2010. But I counted only six among the 1,210 rich folks listed in 2011. In addition to Lerner, there was Mike Ilitch of the Detroit Tigers (736th, $1.7 billion), Drayton McLane of the Houston Astros (833rd, $1.5 billion), John Fisher* of the Oakland Athletics (879th, $1.1 billion) and Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels and John Henry of the Boston Red Sox (tied at 1,140th, $1 billion).