Tampa Bay's hopes of luring an existing major-league franchise received some encouragement Tuesday, but indications were there will be no action any time soon. Pittsburgh Pirates chairman Douglas Danforth and Boston Red Sox general partner Haywood Sullivan both spoke highly of the Tampa Bay market and its continued pursuit.
Danforth, who chaired the National League expansion committee that bypassed Tampa Bay, said: "I believe Tampa Bay could without any question field a major-league team and do it very successfully." He indicated Tampa Bay's problems in the expansion race were due to the financial structure of the ownership group.
"I think you'll get a team," Sullivan said.
But baseball officials said there have been no formal talks of any possible franchise moves, and St. Petersburg city manager Robert Obering said a team for the $138-million Florida Suncoast Dome could not be acquired until 1993 at the earliest. That's the same year the two expansion teams will begin play.
American League president Bobby Brown said his league has held no discussions related to the movement of existing teams and "we're happy with the cities that we have."
Tampa Bay also could pursue an existing National League team, but may run into opposition from some AL owners who were against the idea of allowing the NL to claim two Florida sites for expansion.
"We have to protect our interests down there. I just can't see that it's good for baseball to have one league represented in the whole Southeast," Sullivan said.
Asked if Tampa Bay would be better off pursuing an American League team, Sullivan said: "That would make sense."
But Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf did not rule out the move of an NL team. He said relocations would have to be considered on the basis of what is best for baseball as an industry, not individual leagues.
The Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians are considered by observers to be the top candidates for a move. But Brown and several owners said there has been no such talk.
Back in St. Petersburg, Paul Getting, executive vice president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said a group of Tampa Bay business leaders has already set into motion the process of seeking a team.
"I think you can assume that it's started. Contacts have certainly begun by now," Getting said.
Meanwhile, the official coronation of Denver and South Florida as the new NL expansion teams looks closer to reality as the owners gather here for a quarterly meeting.
St. Louis Cardinals chairman Fred Kuhlmann, who chairs the ownership committee, said he did not "see any glitches" that would prevent his group from approving the two new ownership groups at a meeting this afternoon.
If that happens, the full ownership could vote on the issue today, and several owners indicated they expect the recommended cities to be approved.
"I don't think as far as I'm concerned there should be any problems," said California's Gene Autry.
"There might be some questions and answers, but in the end I don't see much debate taking place," Sullivan said.
Kuhlmann and Danforth said the vote might take place today, following presentations to separate meetings of the AL and NL owners, and that it would be up to league president Bill White to call for a vote.
White said he didn't know if he would. "We don't know what we're going to do _ we never do," White said, brushing past reporters in the marbled lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.
Commissioner Fay Vincent said he does not expect a vote at these meetings, but anticipates formal approval of Denver and South Florida during a telephone conference call within 10 days.
Brown said he was aware of media speculation involving possible moves of the Seattle and Cleveland franchises _ "I read the same papers you do" _ but maintained the subject has not been broached.
"We have not had any real specific relocation discussions that I know of in the last year or so," he said.
Relocations are usually handled through the commissioner's office rather than by the leagues, Brown said, and referred to Vincent's preference for franchise stability. He also pointed to Vincent's comments that teams that might be allowed to move would have to be near bankruptcy or "in some situation that makes it almost intolerable to try to survive in the location they're in.
"I don't think we have any of that in our league."
While saying the central Florida market "is a dynamic area," Brown also said, "but so is Nashville, Tenn., and Vancouver, British Columbia, and 12 or 15 other places."
Texas Rangers general partner George W. Bush said he had heard talk of a Seattle relocation "bantered about," but not by team chairman Jeff Smulyan.
San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie, who is looking desperately for a new stadium, said Tampa Bay folks need not call him _ for now anyway. Lurie said he is hopeful a stadium deal can be made somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area.
If not? "We'll wait and see what happens first," he said.
Kuhlmann also was less than encouraging about a team moving. "There are a number of clubs, as you know, that are having some problems, but whether any will be moving is still an open question,' he said. "I would like to see it happen only as a matter of last resort."
Brown also said the subject of American League expansion has not come up. Vincent has said repeatedly the NL's addition of two teams is the last expansion for this decade, at least.
RELOCATIONS IN PAST 40 YEARS
1953: Boston Braves move to Milwaukee
1954: St. Louis Browns move to Baltimore
1955: Philadelphia Athletics move to Kansas City
1958: New York Giants move to San Francisco
1958: Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles
1961: Washington Senators move to Minnesota
1966: Milwaukee Braves move to Atlanta
1968: Kansas City A's move to Oakland
1970: Seattle Pilots move to Milwaukee
1972: Washington Senators move to Texas