The Baltimore Orioles' board chairman, Jerold C. Hoffberger, said yesterday he will attempt to shift his club from the American League to the National League, apparently to head off a possible move of an NL team to Washington.
Hoffberger several times expressed displeasure with current proposals that would have an AL club switch to the NL and move to Washington.
"I would use the courts as necessary to stop such a subterfuge," Hoffberger said by telephone from Miami. "I would hope such action would not really be necessary."
While he sincerely hopes baseball returns to Washington, Hoffberger said, "Baltimore continues to oppose the introduction of an (AL) team in Washington, and it will continue to oppose the transfer of a (AL) team (to the NL) for the purpose of putting a team in Washington."
As an AL club, the Orioles can block their league from placing another franchise within 75 miles of Baltimore. They have no control over the NL moving a club to Washington; thus, efforts to return baseball to RFK Stadium have centered on placing an NL club here.
Most of the clubs experiencing financial problems, and therefore most likely to consider a move, are AL clubs. The Oakland A's have been mentioned most prominently, although the Orioles and Chicago White Sox also are having financial difficulties.
If the Orioles were to shift leagues - which would require approval of 10 of the 14 AL clubs and nine of the 12 NL clubs - Hoffberger would be able to veto any attempt by the NL to place a club here.
Lee S. Macphail, AL president, said last night that he does not think his league, after taking in two expansion clubs this year, "would want to give up one of our better, established teams to the National League."
If the AL were to let another of its clubs join the NL and move to Washington, Hoffberger said, "I doubt there would be very much in law or morality to support such a move." Hoffberger said advocates of the plan to have an AL team switch leagues and move to Washington are "trying to do to us (Orioles) indirectly what they can't do directly."
If baseball wants to move into Washington, Hoffberger added, the AL could place one of its troubled franchises there while Baltimore joined the NL. He was quick to point out that his proposal would create two 13-club leagues with limited interleague play.
The AL has sought interleague play while the NL opposed it. But NL owners are becoming more receptive to the idea if it would clear up the so-called Washington problem - especially if the AL club to be moved was Oakland, under a new owner.
"If Washington really wants baseball, I'd be terribly distressed to find out Washington was going to say, 'We're not going to accept the American League,'" Hoffberger added.
Vowing he would fight to block any other AL club from shifting to the NL and moving to Washington, Hoffberger said the NL "does not have (available) teams and should not be permitted to get by with this by virtue of the Oakland A's."
There have been repeated reports that A's owner Charles O. Finley wants to move to Washington, which Finley has both confirmed and denied. Recently, Finley said he would sell his club to the leagues if the A's were kept in Oakland for the remaining 10 years of their lease.
"I will do everything possible to stop" a shift of the A's to the NL and Washington," Hoffberger said. He said he has not talked to Finley about that owner's plans for his club.
According to the Baltimore Evening Sun. Hoffberger revealed his plan to the other league owners at a meeting in Tampa last week.
People in Washington, Hoffberger said, should be glad he is willing to open the way for an AL club here by seeking permission for the Orioles to join the NL. "I think we've been very gracious to make the opportunity available," he said.