Owners of major league baseball's 26 teams will meet Monday in Houston, amid indications that National League expansion still isn't a very hot topic.
In fact, representatives from Washington, Tampa, Denver, Phoenix and other cities have been told that attending the meetings probably would be useless since the subject may not even come up.
Yet, as always, there is hope.
Two baseball sources said that, although expansion wouldn't be discussed this week, it likely would be on the agenda for the December meetings in Hollywood, Fla.
"I think there's a chance for some kind of decision in December," a National League owner said. "Our Long Range Planning Committee met last week, and I was thinking the commissioner would issue a statement about it. If he's not going to say anything, I don't want to."
Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth did not return phone calls by The Washington Post this week and declined to issue a statement, saying via a spokesman that he'll announce something when the owners give him something to announce.
So, for the fans who wait for baseball in places such as Washington and Phoenix, the beat goes on.
With no decision on expansion due anytime soon, Washington's best hope for obtaining major league baseball remains the relocation of an existing franchise, and because franchise moves are so unpredictable, members of the D.C. Baseball Commission won't rule out Washington having baseball by 1987.
"I certainly haven't given up on next season," said commission member Andy Ockers-hausen. "So many things could happen. No owner in his right mind would say anything now."
If a team does relocate to Washington, it apparently would be the Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants or Chicago White Sox. Here's an update on each franchise:
The Astros still seem Washington's best hope, although owner John McMullen hasn't made any public statements about a move since late April. The closest he came was in a recent speech to a group of Houston business leaders.
"He seemed more positive about staying than he had been," a man who heard the speech said. "He criticized the Houston media for being negative and hurting attendance, but he always does that."
Still, McMullen has refused to make any commitment about whether he'll keep the Astros in Houston, sell them to a Houston group or move them, and more than a few Texans are nervous.
"Nervous," a Harris County official said. "That's a good word."
Although the Astros have been in or near first place all season, their attendance still is sluggish. At their current pace, they would draw about 1.3 million fans. McMullen has said he needs 1.8 million to break even. The price to escape his lease is $20 million. He could get that from Washington investors in about eight seconds.
Until recently, the Giants again looked untouchable because a plan for a downtown stadium seemed to be moving along. But it has hit a snag, cost estimates having soared above the projected $36 million.
One report had the Giants privately projecting the cost as high as $55 million, and Mayor Dianne Feinstein sending Giants owner Bob Lurie a letter this week saying there is no way the city can build the facility unless costs are below $40 million. Baseball officials have been skeptical a stadium can be built for $36 million, and if the city can't pay more than $40 million, Lurie may be looking around again.
Like the Giants, the White Sox are caught in a maze of city and state politics. What is clear is: (a) the club will leave Comiskey Park because maintenance fees run close to $1 million per year and because the owners say the structure will be unsafe after 1989; and (b) a plan for a downtown stadium has stalled.
White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn met with officials of the city of Addison (40 miles west of the Loop) this week and said they believe a stadium can be built there.
They won't rule out leaving Illinois, and Reinsdorf recently toured Mile High Stadium in Denver and RFK Stadium in Washington.
But for dozens of reasons, baseball people are skeptical the White Sox will move. One reason is that WFLD-TV pays them $8.2 million to do 55 games, and baseball sources said none of the cities mentioned as new homes could come within $4 million of that figure.
So, while there is hope on every front, there are no guarantees RFK will have baseball in '87, or '88.
"Right now, everything is status quo," Ockershausen said. "The thing I'm encouraged about is that everyone I talk to in baseball says Washington is a viable city. No one ever said that before, but I think we're being taken seriously now. I'm convinced people are paying attention to us."