This is a big-league, big-money city that's larger, richer and a better television market than most of its competitors for a major league baseball expansion team. Still, there's a little something not settled.

"We don't have an owner. We don't have a stadium," said Richard Brodsky, chairman of the South Florida Baseball Committee. "If the (expansion) decision were being made today, we would have some problems."

The 3.5 million people in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties comprise the seventh-largest metropolitan market and the 13th-largest TV market in the country; Dade alone has nearly 2 million people and ranks as the 22nd metropolitan market. Miami has a rich sports fabric, including the American Football Conference-champion Dolphins and the 1983 national champion University of Miami football team.

"We think we are very much in the running because we have one of the best markets," Brodsky said.

But while some other areas have been campaigning for a baseball team the better part of a decade, this area entered the race in the last year. There is no announced ownership group, no stadium and not a lot of money funding the drive.

There is a lot of ground to make up. The South Florida Baseball Committee, the group trying to win a franchise here, was formed in April 1984. About 250 miles away, interests in Tampa-St. Petersburg have been working for a team for more than a half-dozen years and are regarded among the front-runners if expansion takes place.

"It's fair to say they were out of the box before we were," said Rick Horrow, president of the SFBC, who doesn't see that as necessarily harmful to Miami because "Florida could easily support two teams."

Maybe so, but will Miami get one? And if so, who would own it? SFBC has not introduced a potential owner or owners, but Horrow says that is by design.

"I don't think it's appropriate to announce one, two or three people just so we can get the names out. I would rather wait and do it right," he said.

"The bottom line," Brodsky said, "is we need somebody to come forward and put the bucks on the table."

Enter Dolphins owner Joe Robbie. He is building a stadium for his football team near the Dade-Broward line that he says could be converted for baseball by moving the seats along the first and third base lines. He says it would seat 60,000 for baseball.

"We think Miami and South Florida have an advantage over any of the other applicants because of the fact we are going to have our stadium started by 1985," Robbie said.

Don Poss, the Dolphins' vice president for planning and special projects, anticipates a fall groundbreaking and a stadium that would be ready for the NFL's 1987 season. They have applied for $85 million in industrial revenue bonds as low-interest financing and hope by August to have plans set sufficiently to "get a fixed price" on the cost.

That should be plenty of time for baseball, Poss reasons, since Miami is considered a more likely bet for baseball's expected "second wave" of expansion, which may not come until the 1990s.

"I think we're bound to be in the second wave," Robbie said. "If our stadium is under construction when they designate the first wave, maybe we'll be in that . . .

"As far as ownership, we'll put an investment group together ourselves. It's not necessary that we own the team, but we certainly want to see a group of investors formed, and rather than wait, we'll put that group together."

That suits the SFBC. "Anyone who is thinking about obtaining a franchise ought to make a deal through Robbie," Brodsky said. Robbie said "a lot of people" have approached him and he should have a group formed by mid-June.

If Robbie steps forward, it can only help Miami's image. And image may be as important as substance in the race for a team.

An impressive booklet on "the demographics and desirability of the South Florida market for a major league baseball expansion franchise" has been produced for the SFBC by Del Wilber and Associates in Washington, D.C. Like the people who hired him, Wilber stresses Miami's status as a market, although he admits there are problems.

"Miami is clearly late (entering the race), but if they fix the things that are unsettled -- the stadium and ownership -- they can bring a lot of things to the party," Wilber said.

Perhaps foremost among those things is access to Latin America. Wilber and Horrow both note Miami's status as a sort of gateway to the Caribbean, an area from which baseball traditionally has drawn large numbers of players and fans and where many players return each winter to play in organized leagues.

New areas, of course, mean new markets. And new markets mean new money and what Wilber calls "the whole TV thing. You can imagine a TV signal emanating from Miami would reach Puerto Rico, Cuba, all those places."

"We are phrasing and framing our application to baseball as an international business destination," Horrow said. And indeed a letter the SFBC sent to then-baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn last summer notes Miami's "large domestic and international radio-TV-cable audience."

Time is the key for Miami. When Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said a few weeks ago that no city came close to being qualified for an expansion team, it prompted headlines in such top contender cities as Denver and Tampa, but in Miami the reaction was almost relief.

"We think we have enough time as long as we convince baseball we are serious," Horrow said.

"Mr. Robbie's stadium is real, but people can't touch and feel it yet. We really treat the stadium as a given, but more importantly, as a nonissue to our movement . . .A stadium can be a very significant negative if a controversy arises. What can happen is the stadium site serves as a wedge to drive the community apart."

Miami feels it has learned a lesson in that regard from its competitors in Tampa and St. Petersburg, which are conducting separate campaigns to bring baseball to their individual communities. "Those two are going to shoot each other in the foot," Wilber said.

Whether that might help Miami is dubious. Since the Tampa-St. Petersburg area still seems ahead of Miami in the race, the talk here is more of how good it would be for teams to be in both areas, creating a regional rivalry.

No one seriously expects that rivalry to develop unless baseball expands by more than two teams. "If there were two teams and if I had to bet money, I'd say Denver and Washington," Wilber said. Others say Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg. No one says Miami. One baseball executive who has served as a consultant to two cities seeking expansion teams said Miami "is in the picture, but not really."

Ueberroth has given three criteria that cities seeking expansion teams should meet: fan support, political support and local, multiple ownership. So far, the political support seems to be the only thing Miami can count on being a definite plus since, although the Dolphins draw well (averaging 65,609 last season), the highly successful Hurricanes bring in only 41,309 (a drop from 44,555 the previous season) per game in the 75,500-seat Orange Bowl. A season ticket drive similar to Washington's is planned here to show the support would be no problem, Wilber said.

Political support has not brought with it big bucks, although that isn't too different from many other areas trying for teams. Money is a bit tight, Brodsky conceded, now that the SFBC's original $50,000 grant from Dade County is spent, but said, "We don't have to spend money to take the next step, that of putting an ownership group together."

It all comes back to that here -- the owners and the stadium. If not Robbie, who? If not Robbie's stadium, where?

Miami Stadium, where the Baltimore Orioles play in spring training, could be expanded beyond its 9,000 seats, but Brodsky describes it as having a "location perception problem . . .It's not in the best part of Miami." Also a possibility is some yet-unspecified site, to be purchased and built on by a yet-unannounced owner at a yet-unspecified date. The vagueness, the SFBC hopes, may not be a problem.

"Time has not yet become that critical," Brodsky said. "All the things the other cities have done so far is extended batting practice. The game hasn't started yet."