One day after the high tide of baseball expansion receded here, those attempting to bring a team to Washington tried to come to grips with the fact that no major announcement on the issue seems imminent.
"It's a crushing blow," said D.C. City Councilman Frank Smith, chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission. "If you're looking at snail speed, this is as fast as a snail can move. It's called high gear for a snail."
That banner at Redskins games at RFK Stadium that reads, "Baseball in '87," perhaps ought to be changed by the Senators fan club, suggested Andy Ockershausen, executive vice president of WMAL Radio and a commission member.
"The fan club may cry and put a tear in it. Or maybe they'll put a question mark after it," Ockershausen said today. "Or maybe they'll change it to 'Baseball in '88.' "
There was deep disappointment and a smattering of surprise in Washington when the 26 baseball owners and Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, after lengthy discussions on expansion Wednesday, made no definitive announcement on the issue.
Ueberroth said owners set no timetables and made no commitments. He said the next step remains unclear, but that major league baseball "will get in touch" with representatives of Washington and the 11 other cities actively seeking a team.
Peter Bavasi, president of the Cleveland Indians, who sat in on the joint session of baseball owners, today described the discussion on expansion as "staid and straightforward." He said that the reports on each city were given "without interpretation. The main points for each city were touched upon in about four to five minutes per city, and then they moved to the next city."
Bavasi said that no personal opinions on the various cities were given by Ueberroth or by any of the owners, "since (expansion) was just a report item, not an action item." Bavasi said that competing cities were not placed in any order of preference and that discussion of expansion, relocation and related issues consumed 2 1/2 hours of the eight-hour meeting.
More than 15,000 pledges for season tickets had been made for a nonexistent team in Washington, with buyers depositing more than $8 million ($567 per full 81-game ticket) in interest-earning accounts in area banks.
As of today, it appeared uncertain whether the ticket drive would be continued. Said Smith, "I would think there would be no reason to keep the drive going. It would be hard for me to face a group of people and tell them that depositing money in the bank would convince baseball people to get us a team.
"But I hope people keep (their deposits) in the bank for several months into '86. I think we owe ourselves a few months to reflect on this and to get a feel and reading from the commissioner and others in baseball."
Ockershausen and Robert Pincus, president of the D.C. National Bank and also a commission member, were adamant in their feeling that the ticket drive must be continued. The D.C. Baseball Commission will hold its next meeting Wednesday, when members will discuss strategy, Ockershausen said.
"It's premature for us to quit," said Pincus. "We have developed momentum. We'll have to try to continue to sustain it as long as we're getting some signals -- albeit mixed signals -- that there's a possibility for expansion or relocation.
"I know that we're going to continue to be an active baseball commission and to pursue baseball on behalf of Washington . . . I'm disappointed, but not disillusioned."
Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, hoping to own the Washington expansion team, expressed disappointment over baseball's seeming indecision. Cooke, who purchased the Daily News of Los Angeles for $176 million Tuesday, said he will continue to pursue an existing franchise.
Cooke said, "I'm disappointed. I can only sit and wait and hope the expansion committee chooses a firm date for expansion, at which time I have every reason to believe that we'll be successful in getting a franchise for Washington. Heavens knows, the city deserves it."
Also, sources indicated that the other potential ownership group, which includes land developers Oliver T. Carr Jr., James Clark and Ted Lerner, contacted San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie several weeks ago on the possibility of buying that team and relocating it in Washington. (Cooke also has contacted Lurie, but "not recently.")
Lurie said the contact was made by Lerner. "He called to let me know Washington wants a baseball team. I said I knew that already. It was a very pleasant conversation. But there is nothing new," said Lurie.
Lurie added that he expects to resume talks with San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein soon about the possibility of building a new stadium in San Francisco, so that the Giants can leave Candlestick Park. Several baseball executives had said they thought it was imperative to settle the Giants situation at these meetings, but it appears that did not happen.
The annual winter meetings ended today as owners from the National League and the American League met separately, discussing a variety of items, but not expansion. Smith said he fears it could be as long as a year until the owners gather again to discuss expansion.
"This decision (by the owners) has happened before," said Dr. Robert Schattner, a member of Carr's group who was involved in trying to bring the San Diego Padres to Washington more than a decade ago. "This time, though, because of the fan support in Washington with season tickets, I thought this meeting might bring the message we're waiting for."
Some officials in expansion-hopeful cities had viewed these meetings as their moment of truth. Now, they feel as though they have finished their marathon efforts -- only to have the tape at the finish line moved before they could reach it. They now aren't certain if there is an end to their race.
"But the owners didn't end the race, either," Pincus reasoned. "The critical factor for me is that the owners didn't say they would not expand."