The owners of major league baseball teams examined the issue of expansion today, reviewing Washington and the other 11 cities competing for teams, but made no commitments and set no timetable.
Representatives of cities seeking expansion teams had been hoping for months that the 26 owners would grant expansion franchises at these winter meetings.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said expansion was the main issue at today's meeting. He said that after each of the dozen cities had been reviewed individually, "they (had) fallen into three groups: One that are really some distance off and don't seem to be organized. Those that are interested, but are somewhat distant. And those that are on the front burner."
He would not elaborate. However, one National League owner, who requested anonymity, said, "Washington is definitely in the top group."
"That's good to hear, but not much consolation," said District Councilman Frank Smith, chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission when reached tonight in Washington. "We'd hoped for a decision by now."
Ueberroth said that baseball's long-range planning committee, which consists of 12 owners and league presidents Bobby Brown (American) and Chub Feeney (National), will "be in touch" with the expansion-hopeful cities. He said it "wasn't conclusive" what baseball's next step on expansion will be.
"(Owners) are seriously discussing it. Maybe people say that's not progress, but if it's not, okay, you make your own conclusion," Ueberroth said. "But it's better than a year ago when there were a lot of (cocktail) parties."
Over the last year, more than 15,000 pledges for season tickets to a nonexistent team have been made in Washington and more than $8 million has been deposited in area banks to back those pledges. Roughly half of the current major league teams do not have 15,000 season ticket holders.
"I'm disappointed that owners would thumb their noses at 15,000 season tickets and turn their backs on $8 million in the bank and a city government that is trying to prepare this area and stadium for a ballclub," Smith said.
"I am beginning to doubt whether these fine men in charge of America's sport are acting responsibly," he added.
Smith also said that he feels that because baseball owners did not definitely decide to expand today that some of those people who depositied money for the season-ticket plan may withdraw the money for other uses, such as Christmas presents.
"If we get a decision by the first of March we could still get ready to play baseball in RFK Stadium for 1987," he said. "I still want to negotiate these matters with the commissioner's office and try to sort out the facts.
"We'll have to spend time with the owners because that's where the ball is now."
The cities competing for expansion teams, besides Washington, are: Denver, Nashville, Indianapolis, Buffalo, New Orleans, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami, Phoenix, East Rutherford, N.J., Vancouver and Columbus, Ohio.
Ueberroth said owner Bob Lurie of the San Francisco Giants updated owners on his team's current plight. He is eager for his team to leave Candlestick Park, but not San Francisco.
"The Giants situation is one that concerns us," Ueberroth said. "but we didn't make a decision one way or the other."
Asked if baseball is guilty of having given mixed signals on expansion recently, he said pointedly: "I hope there is a clear signal (now) that we're addressing the problem. There aren't any guarantees at all, one way or the other. We're going to address the subject to the best of our abilities.