It didn't take long for the National League to figure out what everybody else in baseball understood. In tough fiscal times, there just weren't two better choices than Miami and Denver for expanding the senior circuit to 14 teams.
After four days of denials, the decision of the NL expansion committee leaked out yesterday. It confirmed the two cities as the top choices among a field of six.
The recommendation, first reported in both cities early last week, was mailed by the expansion committee to the 26 major-league owners over the weekend. The next step is approval by the eight-man major-league ownership committee, and then a formal vote by both leagues. Whether all of this can be accomplished during scheduled meetings in Santa Monica, Calif., tomorrow and Thursday is uncertain.
But the hunt is over. Miami and Denver can start the celebrations -- and come up with checks for the $95 million franchise entry fee.
"They obviously were the two most attractive choices," said commissioner Fay Vincent. "I think the recommendation will be accepted. I believe the ownership committee will vote on it. I still don't know if the leagues will. I suspect not."
The vote will be delayed because the jousting between the AL and NL is not over. Certainly, the recommendation of Miami in the untapped Florida market can be considered a victory for the NL. It could complete the shutout by landing a second franchise in Florida through one of its rumored franchise shifts. Tampa-St. Petersburg has a 42,000-seat site available in the Suncoast Dome, and the Astros are just one of a few NL cities considered to be up for sale.
Not that other cities are writing off their chances either. Washington, D.C., for one, still sees major-league baseball returning there someday.
"Obviously, I am disappointed that the nation's capital was not selected for a major-league baseball team," Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon said. "Everyone involved in this effort, including the thousands of fans who bought season tickets, worked very diligently to make baseball a reality in D.C.
"However, one strike doesn't mean we are out. In the coming months, I will work with investors and other baseball boosters to pursue teams for sale in order to bring baseball to Washington, D.C."
Still, the real joy and optimism was reserved for Denver and Miami.
"We're pleased and excited," said H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., who would own Miami's team.
The choice of Denver is long overdue. The Mile High City has a minor-league history dating back to 1886. A Denver team would help fill the gap from St. Louis to California, and offer a chance for reorganization, with Atlanta or Cincinnati finally escaping the NL West.
"Obviously, the owners group must ratify it," said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado. "My feeling is that it's a very good home run for Denver and Colorado."
The two teams would be the first new major-league franchises since 1977 and the first new NL teams since 1969.
The NL had intended to vote on the original recommendation tomorrow, but last week postponed the action. The ownership committee said it needed more time after the expansion committee refused to divulge its selections.
"Under the circumstances, the ownership committee will also placethe matter on its June 12 agenda," the NL said in a statement. "Members of the committee are now able to limit their review to two cities and, hopefully, will be able to expedite their consideration of the two ownership groups and complete their deliberations on June 12."
The teams will be stocked by an expansion draft following the 1992 season. Each major-league team will contribute three players to the pool.
A brief look at Miami's bid for a National League expansion franchise:
* POPULATION: 4.5 million in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area.
* STADIUM: Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the NFL Miami Dolphins. More than $10 million was spent to make multi-purpose facility suitable for baseball. There are 46,000 prime seats for baseball, but an exhibition game drew a sellout crowd of 67,654 this year.
* OWNERSHIP: H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of the board of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp.
* ESTIMATED OWNERSHIP WORTH: $500 million. A drop in Blockbuster stock recently cost Huizenga $115 million on paper, but the price rebounded later to enable him to regain $40 million in stock value.
* TEAM NAME: Not determined.
* TEAM COLORS: Not determined.
* MIAMI'S BASEBALL HISTORY: Effort to get a team gained momentum when Huizenga entered the picture. Minor-league teams have not enjoyed much success in Miami, but large television market and sizable Latin population make it an attractive city for the National League. A brief look at Denver's bid for a National League expansion franchise:
* POPULATION: 500,000 in Denver and 1.8 million in the metropolitan area.