Jim Kimsey knows a thing or two about long shots.
He was thrown out of the District's Gonzaga High in the 1950s. He ended up graduating from West Point in the 1960s. He was banned by the Securities and Exchange Commission from the stock brokerage business in the 1970s. He ended up co-founding a company -- headquartered in a basement office in Tysons Corner -- that became one of the biggest success stories of the 1990s: America Online.
Today, Kimsey is a billionaire and back in the long shot business: He is part of a group, led by financier Fred Malek, that is trying to bring a major league baseball team -- the Montreal Expos -- to Washington.
"We have overwhelming odds to face," Kimsey said.
The Malek group, officially known as the Washington Baseball Club Limited Liability Co., may represent the District's best chance of landing a major league team since the Senators left town to become the Texas Rangers in 1971. The six-member group has an estimated net worth of more than $3 billion and connections that extend from Major League Baseball to the White House to the boardrooms of billion-dollar companies.
And it's a group whose members have overcome big obstacles.
In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Malek fought allegations -- arising from a memo he had written as an aide to President Richard Nixon -- that he was anti-Semitic. Malek went on to become president of Marriott Hotels and Northwest Airlines and, today, he counts Israel's ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, among his friends.
"Crazier things have happened," Kimsey said of the District's chances of getting a major league team.
Consider, however, that no team is for sale.
But the financially troubled Expos may be available if a new limited partnership group and stadium construction plan are not in place this fall. All but one of the Expos' owners say they want to keep the team in Montreal; the lone dissenter, general partner Claude Brochu, has offered to sell his piece of the franchise.
Roger Samson, a marketing consultant hired by the Expos' limited partners, said three stadium plans have been submitted to Major League Baseball and negotiations with a prospective new general partner, art dealer Jeffrey Loria, are making steady, though slow, progress.
Samson said the team's future in Montreal cannot be ensured until these issues are fully resolved, although optimism about keeping the team there, according to sources, seems to be growing despite the lowest attendance in the major leagues. Another factor is Commissioner Bud Selig's reluctance to place a team 35 miles from the Baltimore Orioles, according to baseball sources.
If the Expos are put up for sale, the D.C. group would have to convince Selig that the District is a better choice than Charlotte or Northern Virginia, which also are in the hunt for a team. (A second D.C. group, led by real estate developer Douglas Jemal, has been inactive in recent months.)
To move their National League team, the Expos would have to win approval from three-quarters of the NL owners (12 of 15) and a majority of the American League owners (eight of 14), according to baseball rules.
Selig is believed to favor Charlotte, headquarters of BankAmerica Chairman Hugh McColl Jr., whose company helped finance a new stadium (set to open in 2000) for the Milwaukee Brewers, formerly owned by Selig and now run by Selig's daughter. Selig has promised to give full consideration to each prospective ownership group.
Northern Virginia, meantime, has not missed an opportunity to trumpet its perceived advantages over the District.
In a 28-page booklet sent to major league owners last month, the state-run Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority noted that while Northern Virginia has seen boom growth over the past three decades, "the District of Columbia continues to lose both residents and employment."
"Obviously, they've chosen to do some D.C. bashing," said one member of the D.C. group, Paul Wolff, a partner at the District-based Williams & Connolly law firm.
Three of the six members of the D.C. group -- Wolff, Washington lawyer Steve Porter and Fannie Mae Chairman Franklin Raines -- live in the District. The other three -- Malek, Kimsey and Joe Robert Jr., who heads a real estate investment firm -- are longtime Northern Virginians who have supported state legislators who back Northern Virginia's baseball bid.
"I'm a Virginian and I love my state," said Malek, who heads Thayer Capital Partners, a District-based investment firm that manages several billion dollars and owns the city's largest hotel, the Marriott Wardman Park.
"But when I look at this objectively I feel the arguments point toward the District of Columbia as the right place for a team. . . . Here we are, the capital of the free world, with one of the most influential media markets and a great sports-minded population. This city -- the nation's capital -- deserves a major league baseball team."
Robert lives in McLean, not far from Malek.
"Northern Virginia has probably the worst traffic -- or, at least, the second-worst traffic, after Los Angeles -- in the nation," Robert said. ". . . Transportation problems in Northern Virginia are legendary. It's awful. . . . Putting a baseball team downtown -- on or near a Metro site -- is a home run."
Kimsey, who lives in a Rosslyn penthouse overlooking the Potomac River, said the Redskins' Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in suburban Maryland is a prime example of why professional sports teams belong in the city rather than the suburbs.
"That's a nightmare getting in and out of there," he said. "I have a box there. I've given up trying to get there for kickoff. . . . [The stadium site] has enormous problems. Just look around and see the empty seats."
(Robert and Kimsey were part of a group -- led by Phoenix real estate developer Sam Grossman -- that bid unsuccessfully for the Redskins this year.)
Malek said if his bid is successful the team would play next season at the Redskins' former stadium -- RFK -- and at a new ballpark -- downtown or on the RFK site -- in future seasons.
Robert favors a downtown ballpark. "Think of what it would be like for people who work downtown to get up from their desk at the end of the day and walk a few blocks into this magnificent downtown stadium," he said. "Think of how that would change the city."
But if the Expos go on the market, the D.C. group first will have to contend with the Peter Angelos factor: the Baltimore Orioles' owner has vowed to fight to keep a team out of the District or Northern Virginia, saying it would cut into his ticket sales and media market. A D.C. team seemingly would have a greater impact on the Orioles than one in Northern Virginia, which is farther from Baltimore.
"Having another good team in this area would stimulate overall interest in major league baseball," Malek said. "And the friendly competitiveness of these two teams would be good. It would bring new fans to the game -- people who've never come to a baseball game or wouldn't go to Camden Yards because it's too far."
Angelos, who did not respond to a request for an interview, has said up to 25 percent of Orioles tickets are sold to Washington area fans.
Malek's interest in bringing a baseball team to the District began taking shape in April after he was approached by Wolff and Porter, longtime Washington lawyers and civic activists. At the time, Wolff was chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's budget and finance committee, and Porter was chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's baseball exploratory committee.
"I have had a very good experience with Major League Baseball," said Malek, a Harvard Business School graduate who was a part-owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 until the team was sold last year. "So it struck a very responsive chord."
Malek invited three wealthy and well-connected friends -- Kimsey, Robert and Raines -- to join his newest venture. Meantime, Wolff and Porter stepped down from their positions on the D.C. sports committees to become minor investors.
If D.C. gets a team, Malek said each member of his group will donate about 20 percent of his baseball-team profits to a foundation that will be formed to benefit disadvantaged children, particularly in the District.
Kimsey said he will turn over 100 percent of his profits either to the new foundation or his Kimsey Foundation, which, according to an IRS filing, donated almost $2 million to child-related charities last year. Kimsey also heads the America Online Foundation, which was formed to improve the lives of disadvantaged families through technology.
"I'm not doing this to make a profit," Kimsey said of his baseball team bid.
If the Expos are put on the market, Major League Baseball's ownership committee will likely move quickly to investigate the personal and professional backgrounds of each investor in each prospective ownership group.
The committee may learn, for example, that Kimsey received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., after attending Georgetown University and the District's St. John's College High. (Kimsey said he enrolled at St. John's after he was expelled from Gonzaga for being a "disruptive influence in class.")
It may learn that Kimsey founded an orphanage while serving in Vietnam as an airborne ranger and that as a 35-year-old stockbroker, in 1975, he was barred by the SEC from associating with any investment company for a minimum of five years for allegedly participating in a scheme that misled investors.
Kimsey, in a recent interview, said he was innocent of the charges but chose not to contest them. "I was young and naive," he said. "I had been out of the Army three years and I didn't know any better so I signed a consent decree" with the SEC. Kimsey became a billionaire in the 1990s as chairman and co-founder of AOL. As proof that he's back in the SEC's good graces, Kimsey said he recently had lunch with SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt.
While Kimsey's SEC problems didn't make headlines, Robert got unwanted attention in 1982 after his father, Joseph E. Robert, accused him in a $4 million lawsuit of luring away customers and employees from the family's brokerage business to launch his own real estate firm. Robert said his father's allegations were untrue. A Montgomery County Circuit Court jury ordered Robert, then 32, to pay his father $325,000, according to press reports at the time.
Robert, who attended only one year of college, said he reconciled with his father. He built an international real estate firm, J.E. Robert Companies, that has purchased and/or managed about 23,000 assets worth more than $30 billion. In 1990 the younger Robert also founded Fight for Children Inc., a McLean-based foundation that distributed more than $2 million to various children's charities last year.
The ownership committee also would learn that the D.C. group boasts one of the nation's most prominent African American businessmen -- Raines -- who could be important to a sport that has been criticized for its minority hiring practices and because no minority has a significant ownership role in the major leagues.
In January, Raines became the first African American to head a Fortune 500 company when he was named chairman of Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored company that finances homes for low- and middle-income Americans. A Rhodes scholar, Raines graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and cum laude from Harvard Law School and served as budget director under President Clinton.
The ownership committee already knows Malek, who had to clear an unusual hurdle to be approved as a Rangers part-owner in 1989: Allegations that he was anti-Semitic.
Following orders from Nixon in 1971, Malek had made a rough count of Jewish employees in a government agency. When the memo became public, Malek apologized and made amends with prominent Jewish leaders. Malek said the ownership committee "vetted" the issue "pretty carefully" and cleared him to become a co-owner of the Rangers in a group led by George W. Bush. Malek went on to become president of Northwest Airlines and manager of George Bush's 1992 presidential reelection campaign.
Asked if he believes the White House memo will become an issue if the Expos go on the market, Malek said: "That's an incident that happened 28 years ago. . . . It's ancient history. . . . As I've expressed numerous times over the last 25 years [the memo] was a mistake and I regret it."
The Home Team
In Montreal, Samson -- the consultant to the Expos' limited partners -- said he expects an announcement this fall that the team will play in a new downtown stadium -- in Montreal -- guided by a new general partner. Meantime, the Expos have been drawing about 9,000 fans a game to their outdated 46,500-seat ballpark this season.
"There's been a cloud over that franchise for the last 18 months," Samson said. "You know: It's staying. It's not staying. They're building a stadium. They're not building a stadium. There was a rift between the partners. . . . The cloud, the uncertainty -- you know, people hate that stuff. My opinion is, the fans are pouting. They're fed up with this situation. They're saying: When you guys have sorted this out we'll come back."
Sounding a warning to the District's prospective ownership group, Samson said with a chuckle: "Don't hold your breath. We've got the franchise. And we're keeping it, thank you very much."
In Washington, meantime, Kimsey said he is comfortable with the D.C. group's long-shot status.
"We recognize that the odds may be numerically against us," he said. "But they asked me when I started America Online: How in God's name are you going to do this? You've got a little bitty company here. . . . If you were an oddsmaker in Las Vegas, it had to be 2,000 to 1 that we could have gotten this done.
"The odds of getting a baseball team are better. Obviously, we think this is doable or we wouldn't be trying."
Washington Baseball Club
Frederic V. Malek
College: U.S. Military Academy, Harvard Business School.
Job: Founder and chairman, Thayer Capital Partners, District-based investment firm.
Career highlights: Nixon White House official; former president, Marriott Hotels and Northwest Airlines; former part-owner, Texas Rangers; manager, George Bush's 1992 presidential reelection campaign; director, 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations.
James V. Kimsey
College: Georgetown, U.S. Military Academy.
Job: Chairman, America Online Foundation;
president, Kimsey Foundation.
Career highlights: Co-founder, America Online; former restaurateur; founded and subsidizes two orphanages and a school in Vietnam; board of visitors, U.S. Military Academy; board of directors, Georgetown University.
Franklin D. Raines
Home: Northwest Washington.
College: Harvard, Harvard Law School.
Job: Chairman, CEO Fannie Mae.
Career highlights: Former director, Office of Management and Budget (Clinton administration); former general partner, Lazard Freres & Co. investment firm; former president, Harvard board of overseers; in federal and state policy advisory groups.
Joseph E. Robert Jr.
College: Mount St. Mary's.
Job: Founder, CEO and chairman, J.E. Robert Companies, a real estate investment firm.
Career highlights: Former CEO, Heartland Federal Savings and Loan Association; founder, Real Estate Capital Recovery Association; founder and chairman, Fight for Children, a foundation that benefits children's charities; board of visitors, University of Maryland.
Stephen W. Porter
Home: Northwest Washington.
College: Wisconsin, Wisconsin Law School.
Job: Partner, Arnold & Porter, a D.C. law firm.
Career highlights: Lawyer at Williams & Connolly and Dunnells, Duvall & Porter; board of directors, D.C. Chamber of Commerce, Federal City Council, Washington Performing Arts Society and Greater Washington Board of Trade; former chair, D.C. Chamber of Commerce baseball exploratory committee.
Paul M. Wolff
Home: Northwest Washington
College: Wisconsin, Harvard Law School.
Job: Senior partner, Williams & Connolly, D.C. law firm.
Career highlights: Board of overseers, Corcoran Gallery; vice chair, Washington Performing Arts Society; former board member, Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law; former chair, D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission budget and finance committee.
-- Bill Brubaker
Sources: Interviews and biographies provided by members of Washington Baseball Club LLC