BALTIMORE -- Although he says St. Louis Cardinals owner William Bidwill has not said anything to indicate so, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herb Belgrad says he expects the National Football League team to play here next season.

He said he bases this opinion on the merits of what Baltimore has to offer versus the other contending cities and what he perceives Bidwill to be seeking in a new home for his business and his family.

"I don't think money will be the deciding factor," said Belgrad, a former president of the state bar association. Instead, he said he believes that Bidwill, although seeking a profit, will base his decision on quality of life.

Belgrad also points to Bidwill's relationship with Baltimore media as a strong sign that Baltimore is in his future. When the Cardinals played in Philadelphia Sunday, some Baltimore writers sat in the same section of the press box as St. Louis writers and team officials, instead of the section used by writers from other cities.

There are other subtle signs that Bidwill might be leaning to Baltimore. He made a low-profile appearance in Baltimore with his wife and daughter over the weekend, attending a party thrown by family friends and then touring the city before driving to Philadelphia Sunday morning for the Cardinals' game against the Eagles. A St. Louis source said Bidwill has done no such socializing in Phoenix and Jacksonville.

Bidwill, according to those who have dealt with him, is a quiet, low-profile man and it is difficult to gauge what he feels. Phoenix is regarded as Baltimore's chief competition if the Cardinals leave St. Louis as expected. Other cities luring the Cardinals are Jacksonville, Memphis, Oakland and Columbus, Ohio. Oakland and Columbus are not considered contenders at this time.

Belgrad quickly concedes that his optimism could be ill-founded and that Bidwill could choose Phoenix, which is about as different from Baltimore as a city can be. Bidwill, a Georgetown University graduate, grew up in Chicago before he and his brother Charles moved the Cardinals to St. Louis in 1960.

A source in St. Louis, who thinks Bidwell will move to Baltimore if he moves at all, said Bidwill "doesn't like to make brash changes," a reference to living in Phoenix. "The only man who knows what Billy Bidwill is going to do is Bidwill himself," the source said.

The brothers inherited the team from their father, who bought it in 1932, then William bought out Charles' share. William Bidwill has told Phoenix and Baltimore officials that the team is not for sale and he intends eventually to turn it over to his children and grandchildren.

Belgrad said one of Baltimore's main selling points is that it is the only city that has financing in place for a new state-of-the-art football stadium, part of a $235 million appropriation from the General Assembly to build two stadiums in Camden Yards near the Inner Harbor. The St. Louis source, calling Bidwell "a real student of stadiums," said that in addition to quality of life for himself and his family, a state-of-the-art football-only stadium may be Baltimore's best selling point.

As Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams was consulted in designing the baseball stadium, Bidwill's input would be sought for the football stadium. A Cardinals spokesman confirmed yesterday that Bidwill is expecting an initial lease proposal from Belgrad "in the next couple of days" so the entire family will be better prepared to discuss the Cardinals' situation over Thanksgiving, but no decision is expected for about a month.

The Cardinals will play their last home game Dec. 13; Bidwell must notify the league by Jan. 15 if he intends to move the team.

The spokesman said offers from other cities will be discussed at that time as well as the Baltimore offer as this will be the first time the Bidwill family will have been together for some time.

Belgrad, who updated Gov. William Donald Schaefer during a late afternoon meeting in Annapolis yesterday, has said that Maryland will not get into a bidding war for the Cardinals. He declined to discuss details of the initial lease proposal, saying only that any agreement must provide the stadium authority enough money to pay debt service on bonds sold to finance the stadium. Belgrad said he has a copy of all 28 current NFL stadium leases, plus offers by Jacksonville for the Houston Oilers and by Irwindale, Calif., for the Los Angeles Raiders.

He expects the Baltimore offer to be an average of current NFL leases. "You can assume it will be better than what {Robert} Irsay was offered" before he moved the Colts to Indianapolis one March night in 1984, he said.

At that time, city officials said that businessmen would guarantee Irsay a minimum of 43,000 season ticket sales annually, the city would buy the Owings Mill training facility from Irsay for $4.4 million and lease it back to Irsay for $1 a year and would arrange a $15 million loan for Irsay at 6 1/2 percent, 4 1/2 percent below the prime rate at that time.

Belgrad said that Bidwill has not asked for a loan. The stadium rental paid by Bidwill would be the same as that paid by the Orioles, Belgrad said. Belgrad said he won't lowball the initial lease proposal but, instead, will give Bidwill alternatives on what he wants the stadium to include. For instance, if Bidwill decides the team's offices could be located at the training facility, then that money could be used for something else in the stadium.

Belgrad expects an architect for the stadiums to be chosen within a month. Eight firms have shown interest in bidding.