The Washington Redskins yesterday apologized for the way they had handled the return of tickets for Sunday's Redskins-St. Louis Cardinals game between nonunion players and said that in the future ticket holders wishing to obtain refunds may mail in their tickets rather than wait in line, as thousands were forced to do Wednesday.

"The . . . organization expresses profound regrets to all those who were forced to wait in line for a refund . . . ," the club said in a written statement. "We sincerely apologize for the tiresome waiting and consequent invasion of your time created while our ticket staff processed your refunds."

The club "would have preferred to refund by mail," the statement said. "Unfortunately that was not possible because the NFL had not reached its decision for the Redskins to refund until late Tuesday afternoon, September 29."

Thus, "it was necessary," the statement said, for ticket holders to come in person to the stadium yesterday and Wednesday. "Regrettably, there was no alternative. This unfortunate state of affairs results from an emergency not at all to our liking, but which has been unavoidable."

Wednesday, fans trying to return their tickets had to wait for as long as 3 1/2 hours. But yesterday, striking Redskins waiting to thank disenchanted ticket holders frequently outnumbered disenchanted ticket holders, perhaps in part because of Wednesday's lines.

"I was expecting a lot worse," said Ted Fischer, an engineering consultant from Vienna.

Apparently, so was the Redskins' ticket office staff. It opened for business at 7:40 a.m. with five ticket windows operating instead of the three that were available Wednesday. But by 1:30 p.m. the two extra windows had been closed.

Based on figures given yesterday by a high-ranking team official, the Redskins' ticket return will be significantly lower than that of most other teams around the NFL. The official said yesterday that about 5,000 tickets had been returned on Wednesday. Yesterday's return figure was not available. The deadline for returning tickets was 8 last night.

The Associated Press reported that about 225,000 tickets, or 31 percent of all those issued, had been returned to teams hosting games Sunday. Those figures did not include returns made to the Redskins, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and Los Angeles Raiders. The New York Giants reported that 30,000 tickets for their game Monday against the San Francisco 49ers have been returned.

Returned tickets for Sunday's Redskins-Cardinals game will be on sale today and Saturday at the stadium from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tickets will sell for their regular prices of $15, $20, $23 and $30..

Striking Redskins said yesterday that they were planning to gather at the stadium today.

"Obviously there's not a lot we can do if they want to go to the game," striking Redskins offensive lineman R.C. Thielemann said. "But the fewer people that show up Sunday, the faster the negotiations will go."