The major league baseball club owners meeting here today took steps that seemed to lay the groundwork for switching an American League franchise to the National League and Washington for the 1978 season.
Today's five hours of joint and separate talks brought only one definitive action: The club owners voted down a proposal for three divisions and now will investigate the feasibility of two 13-team leagues with limited interleague play in 1978.
The American League has expanded to 14 teams this season by adding Toronto and Seattle. The National League still has 12 clubs.
American League president Lee S. MacPhail indicated that his owners defeated the three-division plan because they "felt 13-13 would be preferable . . . The (AL) is very much interested in the concept of 13-13. If there had been reason for a vote today, we would, I think, have had enough for three-quarters approval (10 of the 14 clubs.)"
NL owners seemed reasonably receptive to an AL franchise being moved into their league.
"The league attitude on 13-13 is very openminded," said NL President Charles S. (Chub) Feeney. He said he did not know how the NL owners might have voted, had a vote been taken, because "we don't know who is going to do what. Or what ownership we're talking about."
The three AL teams mentioned must often for a possible switch to the NL are the Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles "Any American League team in its right mind would jump at the chance (to switch to the NL and move to Washington)," said Feeney.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, an advocate of the 13-13 plan, was encouraged by the day's developments, saying, "The National League could have said, 'We just aren't interested.' That didn't happen. I don't think it's Pollyannaish to call that a positive thing."
For the first time an elected, highly placed D. C. official attended a major baseball conference to state the city's case for a franchise.
City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker addressed a joint session of the owners of 25 teams. Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley did not attend the meeting.
"Tucker made an extremely fine presentation. We were all most impressed by the things he said and how he said them," Feeney said.
Tucker, who was interrupted by applause several times, said, "I made straight business approach. I didn't plead or beg. If they're looking for a town that has things to offer, this is what we have available. I said in effect, 'If you are wide, you will look at us.'"
One main stumbling block to shifting a team from one city to another this would be the first a team was moved from one league to another has been the traditional lack of communication and good will between the two leagues.
But a group of eight owners, four from each league and known as the "young lions," met Wednesday to discuss the Washington situation and improving communication between the leagues.
Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers and Dan Galbreath of the Pittsburgh Pirates told a press conference that baseball has had difficulty solving its problems since the two leagues officially meet only twice a year; and the brevity of the meetings prohibit a thorough exploration of solutions for the sport's problems.
Today's meeting was a case point since the agenca dealt with unfinished business from the December league meetings and was held at an airport hotel so those attending could leave us quickly as possible after the sessions.
Oakland owner Finley boycotted the meeting because he said he was afraid "they (the owners) might try to buy my club."
Throughout their postmeeting press conference, MacPhail, Feeney and Kuhn were careful not to mention Finely or the A's.
Kuhn emphasized it was mandatory to get support for the concepts before baseball could implement any plan. The two league presidents said there was no discussion of the leagues buying any clubs.
If a 13-13 plan were to get final approval from both leagues, an AL clubowner conceivably could command a higher price if he decided to sell his club as an NL franchise. Some NL owners are reportedly receptive to embracing the A's, but not if the package includes Finley. Under a stipulation approved last year, the National League requires nine of 12 votes for approval of a franchise shift it that shift is to Washington.
MacPhail said his league would have to consider whether one of its franchise might be hurt by an NL club's moving to Washington - a reference to the Orioles.
Jerold C. Hoffberger, Oriole board chairman, told the league he was not enthusiatic about the prospect of an AL club moving to Washington as an NL franchise because of television and radio income he might lose in the Baltimore Washington market.
He also vehemently denied reports that he might be willing to sell the Orioles to someone who would move the club to Washington.
During a separate AL session, Peter Bavasi, general manager of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays, asked the league to consider censuring Finley for his numerous denigrating remarks about Kuhn.
Kuhn won another victory of sorts today when the reported threats of some owners to dilute his authority never materialized. Instead, several owners said they thought his powers to act in the "best interests" of the game probably should be made stronger.
The leagues asked Kuhn to appoint a study committee and provide professional researchers, if necessary, to determine how the 13-13 concept could be implemented. The leagues are not expected to met on the issue again until their annual summer meeting in August.
Besides the AL's preferring the 13-13 concept, MacPhail said, many owners objected to a three-division realignment because of scheduling problems and send a possible end to old rivalries.