He was a hot young executive - one of Dr. Michael Maccoby's "Gamesmen" - and a ferocious competitor.

But he wouldn't play tennis with his wife.

"Why not?" he was asked. "Isn't she competitive enough for you?"

"I's not that at all, he replied. "It's that she won't play with me She was nationally ranked."

It turned out that she, like many another Gamesman's wife, was at least as deeply interested in winning as her husband.

"The Gamesman's family is apt to find itself part of the game," said the best-selling author in an interview at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he is a fellow.

The Gamesman's image is familiar to us in the '70s, seen against a back-ground of other corporate types detected by Maccoby. There is the Craftsman, creative, set apart, a believer in the work ethic; the Jungle Fighter, whose single-minded struggle for power reminds one of the lion or the fox; the Company Man, that self-effacing gray-flannel relic of the '50s and the new executive, the Gamesman:

"His main interest is in challenge, competitive activity where he can prove himself a winner. Impatient with others who are slower and more cautious, he likes to take risks and to motivate others to push themselves beyond their normal pace. He responds to work and life as a game. The contest hypes him up and he communicates his enthusiasm, thus energizing others. He enjoys new ideas, new techniques, fresh approaches and shortcuts . . ."

For such a man, Maccoby observed, the demands of family can be a troubling element in life.

"For some of these guys the family is just part of his career. Often his wife is just as ambitious as he is and sees the family as sort of a winning team. The kids are apt to be into winning too," he added, "and if you get a kid who's a bit dreamy and artistic and maybe doesn't see everything in terms of problem-solving, he often suffers. Some people sacrifice their children to the career. They all feel this guilt."

One reason for the huge success of his book ("The Gamesman," Simon and Schuster, $8.95), Maccoby said, is that it speaks to the businessmen about whom it is written. It gives them insights into the things that bother them. Women, especially women executives, are fascinated by it, because it sheds some light on the grotesquely macho locker-room atmosphere in some managerial environments.

"Women who have reached top corporate positions have said," according to the book, "that getting used to such joking is one of the hardest hurdles . . . One female executive on the way up told us how she fought back.Kidded about her short skirts, she put a shapely leg up on the table and asked her challenger whether he saw anything wrong with it. Although such a comeback to a superior is unusual, her gamely spirit won her points from the other Gamesmen."

Does this mean the feminist movement will produce a Gameswoman? Or will the lower-key attitudes of the post-industrial society gradually soften the hard-edge Gamesman and eventually make him as obsolescent as the Jungle Fighter?

"I feel strongly that it's immoral to predict the future," Maccoby said. Quoting 14th-century Arab philosophr Ibn Khaldum, he suggested that "a real prophet is one who understands the present and the forces that produced it." To predict the future, Maccoby believes, is to rule out alternatives and the power to change. (For example, he argued that a belief in astrology produces a deterministic attitude to one's future that makes one particularly vulnerable to control by the state.)

"But with that caveat, I would say that in general women will only fully enter the business world when the system changes and get more human. Top businesswomen liked the book. But women seem to understand the need to have a heart as well as a head."

The idea of "heart" is important to Maccoby. It is a kind of code word for a personal center, an ego, and he sees signs that a new kind of Gamesman may be emerging, a Gamesman with a heart, "something along the lines of Jimmy Carter."

Incidentally, Maccoby would class John Kennedy as a Gamesman, Ford and Eisenhower as Company Men, Johnson and Nixon as Jungle Fighters.

One great weakness of the Gamesman is that he is narrower, the author said, "he doesn't want to know anything you can't do something about. Something that has an answer to it.

Even in his own field, he's not interested in abstract concepts." As a result, the aging Gamesman can be a rather sad figure when he outgrows his passion for games.

On the other hand, the type is nothing if not adaptive. Even if the country went into another hard depression, Maccoby said, he could imagine Gamesmen becoming more conservative in their approach to their approach to their work, giving more consideration to the quality of existence rather than production for its own sake, perhaps even coming to Erich Fromm's attitude of "being" instead of "having."

One reason why Maccoby's book has struck a nerve in the reading public is that it reaches far beyond the business community.

Top government bureaucrats, for example, appear to recognize themselves in the four types. And, he adds, "comparing my own experience in universities, I would say that although academics consider themselves more 'humane' than businessmen, the engineers and managers we interviewed are no more competitive and a lot more cooperative with another than most professors. If corporate managers engaged in the nitpicking and down-putting common in universities, little would be created and produced."

There is more to come from Michael Maccoby on this subject of careerism, the King Midas syndrome, and how it affects people's lives.

Already, as director of the Harvard Project on Technology, work and Character, he is beginning to think about a new book examining the possibilities for change. Reluctant to project his own feelings into his writing, he does admit that the very response to the book shows that "people are aware that his is a deep problem. I see it as a positive sign."

"Many of the managers and engineers," he writes, "especially those with religious concerns, were more open to issues of the heart than we had expected. They reached as though waking-up at least for a while, to truths already half-known, and many of them asked. 'What can we do about it?'"