Several owners and top executives of major league baseball teams expressed reservations and others were noncommittal on the prospect of expansion, heading into the winter meetings that begin Saturday in San Diego.
For the National League to expand, nine of the 12 league owners must give their approval. A majority of the 14 American League owners also must vote in favor of adding teams to the NL.
Over the past two weeks, The Washington Post attempted to contact each owner, or a representative of each of the 26 teams, to solicit sentiments on expansion. More than half declined to comment or to return phone calls.
Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who has said in the past that he is not opposed to a National League team in Washington, was among those unavailable for comment.
Baseball's Long Range Planning Committee, chaired by Commisssioner Peter Ueberroth, met Nov. 7-8 to hear presentations from representatives of 12 cities seeking franchises. The cities were Washington; Denver; Tampa/St. Petersburg; Miami; Vancouver; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; New Orleans; Indianapolis; Buffalo, and East Rutherford, N.J.
The committee has expansion on its agenda next week, but won't necessarily make a decision at the meetings, although the panel is expected to present a report in San Diego.
"I think -- and I'm speaking for myself and not for the committee -- that somewhere down the road, expansion is inevitable, but just when, I couldn't speculate," said Jim Campbell, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Tigers and a committee member.
Asked if expansion would be good for baseball, Campbell said, "I think so. But only when the time is right. I don't think it's a good idea to expand prematurely. But when the time is right, it's a good idea because there is that kind of interest. Why not let the game go to those areas of the country and Canada that want it?"
The last time baseball expanded was 1977, when Seattle and Toronto entered the American League. The Basic Agreement, negotiated this summer by the players union and the owners, allows the National League to expand by two teams without further negotiation.
The D.C. Baseball Commission, which is leading the Washington effort to acquire a franchise, has sold 13,275 season tickets, worth $7,526,925. The commission and the other groups are, for the moment, looking toward 1987. Campbell, and others, were careful not to discuss a precise time.
The three owners who said they were generally not in favor of expansion all cited the problems of existing franchises. During last summer's negotiations with the players union, the owners said that 20 of 26 teams were losing money. The four franchises recognized as having the most difficulty are San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Asked if he favored expansion, Philadelphia Phillies President Bill Giles, a member of the committee, said, "I would say that I do not. I do have an open mind and, if people can convince me, then maybe. But for the next few years, expansion is not something that should happen in the National League.
"The 12-team league is better for scheduling, and the competition is better the way it is," Giles said. "Some cities could support a team -- Washington is good, Denver is good, Florida somewhere. But before we could get into a serious vote on expansion, there are franchises that are not doing as well -- San Francisco, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Seattle -- and until we get them straightened out, I don't see how we can seriously talk about (expansion)."
The Mariners have had problems with King County, which owns the Kingdome, although team owner George Argyros said, "We have an agreement executed by the county . . . I think we can move forward and build a successful franchise." Argyros said that, considering his and other teams' problems, he also is opposed to expansion.
"I don't favor expansion until some of the financial problems are solved. There are too many very important matters that need to be addressed before the game should be expanded," said Argyros, who is not on the committee. "I think there are some tremendous opportunities . . . Denver, Tampa, Miami. I would hope Washington would have some potential. But before I would vote for expansion, I'd make sure the financial problems are solved, so we don't try to use expansion for a temporary Band-Aid."
Eddie Chiles owns the Texas Rangers, who left Washington in 1971. Although not a committee member, Chiles, too, is unenthusiastic about expansion.
"My general answer is that I do not favor expansion -- in broad, general terms," Chiles said. "Under certain circumstances, maybe I could. I'm sure there are cities capable of having a team, but if you're asking whether I'm interested in expanding for the sake of expansion, I'd say no.
"The financial state of major league baseball has not been good. I certainly won't help bringing in more teams. How will that help teams X and Y? That there are cities that could support a team is one small reason but not a big reason (to expand). I don't know anything (about it) that will be helpful to the Texas Rangers or anything in baseball. It's hard to say that any problem could be helped by expanding into more cities."
Chiles attributed much of the financial problem to the players union and the rise in salaries it has helped achieve.
"The owners are losing too much and subjecting themselves to too much loss," Chiles said. "And I don't think that's because they're all badly managed. Too many are losing money to write it off to bad management. You've got to look at the strong players union as part of the trouble. Baseball is not financially sound, and until it is financially sound, the sporting public will not see the quality they deserve."
White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a committee member, did not make a commitment on expansion.
"I'm open-minded," said Reinsdorf, who added he was very impressed by Washington's presentation. "I haven't made up my mind as to whether it makes sense or doesn't make sense. I do think that before we expand, we should make sure no teams need to be moved."
Campbell was asked if baseball's problems were serious enough by themselves to rule out expansion. "No," he said. "I think the financial problems, with good, prudent management, can be solved. The money's there to be made, if you use good, common sense."