Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner is perilously close to wresting the Cheapest Billionaire Team Owner award away from the Redskins' Dan Snyder, unless he picks up the tab and ends the embarrassing standoff over who pays for late-night Metro service for baseball fans.
Snyder's fumbling attempts to gouge loyal Redskins fans are legendary, including charging them $25 to park on "Fan Appreciation Day" and suing a 73-year-old season ticket holder who could no longer afford the payments on her club seats. But even Snyder had enough sense to sign a contract with Metro to make sure football fans could get home after late games.
Lerner's stubborn refusal to do the same left hundreds of Nats fans stranded after midnight last month. With Washington about to host its first Major League Baseball playoff games in half a century, it could well happen again. The sticking point is the $29,500-per-hour needed to keep Metrorail open after hours on weekdays when games are delayed or go into extra innings. Forbes ranks the Nats as the 16th-most-valuable MLB franchise, with annual revenue of $200 million, so it's ludicrous to suggest the team can't afford it.
Metro correctly points out that the Redskins and the Capitals both cover late-night trains for their own fans. The District government informed the Nats in writing two years ago that it would no longer cover the same service for Nats fans. That is only fair, especially because D.C. taxpayers will be paying off the $611 million baseball stadium for years to come.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have both hinted they might pitch in to help, but that should not be necessary. The precedent, at least in Washington, has already been set by the Redskins, the Caps and the Nats organization itself -- which did in fact pay for late Metro trains after a May 6 game against the Phillies.
Tens of thousands of Nats fans who have enthusiastically embraced this upstart team are eagerly looking forward to the National League wild card playoffs next week. They should not have to worry about getting stranded at the ballpark again. Thanks to their support, Forbes estimates the team's value has increased $30 million since Lerner bought it in 2006 for $450 million. It's time Lerner showed them a little gratitude.