Leaders of a group hoping to buy a major league baseball team for the District presented their case during a two-hour meeting with two of Commissioner Bud Selig's top lieutenants last week in New York.
"They listened very carefully and asked a lot of really good questions," said Fred Malek, head of Washington Baseball Club Limited Liability Co. "This is the first time we've had a meeting with Major League Baseball. We're very pleased they received us, and we felt good about the meeting."
Malek and three of his five partners -- Fannie Mae chairman Franklin Raines, attorney Steve Porter and America Online co-founder Jim Kimsey -- met with Paul Beeston, baseball's chief operating officer, and Robert Dupuy, baseball's vice president for administration, last Wednesday.
After an intense letter-writing campaign to team owners, Malek said his group sought the meeting to continue a lobbying effort that would put them in a favorable light should a proposed financing package to keep the Expos in Montreal collapse, allowing the franchise to be sold and relocated.
The Expos may represent Washington's best chance of getting a big league team since the Senators departed for Texas after the 1971 season. However, the District faces intense opposition from several owners, including Baltimore's Peter Angelos, who oppose having a franchise located so closely to an existing one.
The District group also will have competition from groups in Northern Virginia, Charlotte and other areas if the Expos are put on the market.
"We wanted them to know more about us and who we are," said Malek, chairman of Thayer Capital Partners, a D.C.-based investment firm, and a former Nixon White House advisor and Texas Rangers part-owner. "We had a chance to share the economic data and the results of a study on why a team would work in Washington. We told them quite a bit about ourselves. We wanted them to know we're not just some guys who want to own a baseball team because it's a nice thing to do in life. We feel it's a civic undertaking as well as a business undertaking. We're motivated by bringing a baseball team to the District of Columbia. Different people have different motivations."
Beeston and Angelos did not return telephone calls to their respective offices.
Malek's group has an estimated net worth of more than $3 billion. If the group is allowed to buy the Expos, it would have them play at RFK Stadium for at least two seasons while a new ballpark is constructed in the District. The group also has explored the possibility of renovating RFK, which was originally designed as a baseball-only facility that was configured for the Redskins during football season.
While admitting that "the only thing we can do is wait for a decision on the Expos," Malek attempted to make two primary points at last week's meeting. First, Washington is by far the best market in the country currently without a big league team. Second, while a team in Washington would have some impact on the Orioles, it would not have the devastating impact some have forecasted.
"We believe it would have only a minimal impact on our neighbors, the Baltimore Orioles," Malek said. "We think Camden Yards sells out so frequently that there are many, many fans who can't get tickets. There's virtually no walk-up sales at Camden Yards, and we feel there's a reservoir of unmet demands."
Some owners disagree with that assessment, including one who recently said: "We learned our lesson in the Bay Area when we allowed the A's to move so close to the Giants and weaken two franchises."
As for the Expos, their future rests with New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria, who is contemplating investing around $50 million to become the franchise's managing partner. Sources in Montreal say they're optimistic Loria still wants to be involved, but more than nine months of negotiations have yet to produce a deal.
However, several informal deadlines have passed as Loria continues to negotiate his involvement. A source knowledgeable with the talks recently said that Loria was having second thoughts about the deal, but others disagreed, saying he was only taking his time.
If Loria signs on, he will complete a group that hopes to build a $200 million downtown ballpark and keep the Expos in Montreal. If he backs out, the Expos will be sold and moved this winter.