Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said yesterday he has canceled the major leagues' summer meetings next month in Anaheim, Calif., so that owners can concentrate solely on solving the sport's current labor problems.
It was expected expansion would be a major topic at the meetings, but after the Major League Players Association Monday announced a strike date of Aug. 6, Ueberroth reacted by informing league owners he was canceling the meetings, which had been set for Aug. 14-15. A spokeswoman for the commissioner's office said there are no plans to reschedule the meetings.
"It was (to be) a normal summer meeting, covering a wide range of subjects," Ueberroth told The Washington Post in a telephone interview yesterday. "I think they should be concentrating every effort on the one item that's out in front of us, the (strike) deadline."
Ueberroth did not say discussions on expansion would be postponed indefinitely, only that settling the labor dispute has become the top priority. The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table today in New York in the first meeting since the union announced a strike date.
San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie said the cancellation of the meetings did not mean baseball considers a strike inevitable. "I think the thinking behind this is, with this (the strike) being the main issue, let's get that solved first. That's by far the most important issue of all."
Edward Bennett Williams, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, said the meetings were canceled "because we're focusing on the labor issue, and that takes a heck of a lot of time."
When asked if he thought the owners were acknowledging the inevitability of a strike, Williams said, "No, no, no. I don't think a strike is inevitable at all. We're just going to need that time to discuss the labor issues."
The news of the cancellation was met with resigned understanding in the various cities around the country hoping to acquire a major league expansion franchise.
The D.C. Baseball Commission had hoped to make a major push at the meetings. The commission had hoped to show strong area fan support by selling 10,000 season tickets to an as-yet-nonexistent team by July 31. As of late yesterday, the commission had sold 6,129 season tickets, meaning $3,475,143 has been placed in escrow accounts, according to Morris Siegel, consultant to the commission.
The D.C. Commission released the following statement yesterday about the cancellation of the meetings: "We are disappointed, but not surprised. The August meetings provided a useful deadline. We will double our effort to meet our goal of 10,000 season tickets and to hold our momentum to demonstrate the strong fan support in the greater Washington area."
Siegel said the commission learned of the cancellation when "the hotel we had made reservations with called and said the reservations were canceled."
In Indianapolis yesterday, a rally was held to support the effort in that city to gain a team, with Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray serving as guest speaker. An estimated 7,000 people were in attendance, according to Art Angotti, a member of the partnership that hopes to own an Indianapolis team.
"I understand why the meetings were canceled," said Angotti. "We feel that as soon as the contract issue is settled upon, that expansion will become a top priority issue. Like Washington, D.C., we want to be ready when baseball is ready."
Angotti said Indianapolis has sold 11,000 season tickets in a campaign to show support for a nonexistent team. However, the season ticket there can be pledged with a $50 deposit, far less than the $567 required to pledge for a season ticket in the Washington-area ticket drive. To date, Indianapolis and Washington are the only cities that have held season-ticket drives.
"We didn't plan to make a big push at the meetings," Angotti said. "The push that we have made has come in private sessions with the powers that be in major league baseball."
In Buffalo, Robert E. Rich Jr., president of the AAA Bisons and the aspiring owner of a major league franchise, said, "I don't feel the meetings would have been that important to us. We've been concentrating more and more on one-on-one activities (with baseball executives) and we've had some really good forums. I wasn't really counting on those meetings."
Buffalo is considered a long shot among those cities hoping to acquire a team. Other cities thought to be contenders if baseball does expand are Denver, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., Vancouver, New Orleans, Phoenix and Miami.