The companion issues of expansion and franchise relocation remained the focus Thursday as major league baseball owners quietly concluded their quarterly meetings at Santa Monica.
"I don't think this has been baseball's finest hour," Commissioner Fay Vincent said of the final steps in an expansion process that is ultimately expected to award National League franchises to Denver and Miami for 1993.
As it stands, the American and National leagues are expected to approve the two cities in a phone vote within 30 days, but not before the AL gets answers on two issues:
--How Florida TV rights, now Miami's, would be divided if a team from either league moved to St. Petersburg-Tampa.
--A possible change in the expansion draft that would allow existing teams to protect more top players. The current formula, reduced to simplest terms, will cost each club three of its top 24. Some AL owners contend three of 32 would be fairer.
Vincent said that he has asked Bobby Brown and Bill White, the American and National League presidents, respectively, to begin tinkering with the process.
"It's inconceivable that anything can come between those two cities and a favorable vote, but until it's done I suppose anything can happen," Vincent said.
Vincent opposes franchise moves except under what he calls dire circumstances, but he said that he has asked owner Carl Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins to form a committee that will help him review his policy.
John McMullen has been trying to sell his Astros to a Houston buyer and asked permission at the meetings to seek buyers elsewhere. He was advised by Vincent and the joint ownership committee to keep trying in Houston.
Vincent acknowledged that he is concerned about the deteriorating relationship between the Mariners and the city of Seattle.
The Cleveland situation could become similarly tenuous. The Indians face a June 30 deadline to sign the lease for a new voter-approved stadium that will not be built without a lease agreement.
"We're monitoring those situations carefully," said Vincent, who made his committee appointments in a joint meeting of the leagues that was highlighted by a positive financial report in what many owners have portrayed as a period of economic crisis.
Rick White, executive director of baseball's licensing operations, told the owners that licensing revenue was up 33% in the first six months of 1991. Gross licensing revenue for 1991 is projected to be $1.8 billion, or almost $70 million for each club before the players' association gets its share.