A LADY CALLED me up the other day and said, "I've been reading the newspapers and watching television, and what I want to know is, does the baseball strike mean the end of the world?"

I felt I couldn't lie to her. "For some people it does, but my information is that others will survive it, though nobody knows what shape they'll be in."

"Why," she persisted, "is baseball so important to the United States?"

"Because," I told her, "It's the American pastime. Since we play it, and hardly anyone else does, it makes us different from any other country on the face of the globe. God has blessed our people with the ability to hit and field a little ball over a vast area, guarded by some of the highest-paid men in sports. When American men refuse to play the game, the entire world could read this as a sign of this country's lack of resolution and fortitude."

"Are you saying," she wanted to know, "that a baseball strike could encourage aggression and adverturism by the other side?"

"Everything is done by signals nowadays. How the other side reads our signals could affect their future behavior. The fact that we, at the moment, have no capacity to complete a double play, or even sacrifice a man who is on first base, could be read by our critics as a signal that this country is so involved in domestic strife that it could not deal with any mischief abroad. On the other hand, the situation could be interpreted as one of strength. It shows that we have the ability to defend ourselves despite the fact that there is no one guarding home plate."

I didn't want to frighten the lady, but apparently I had. "Why doesn't the president of the United States step in and settle the strike if our national security is at stake?" she demanded.

"This has been suggested by one of the owners," I told her. "But so far the president doesn't want to interfere in the negotiations, because if he failed at this stage there would be no place for both sides to go. The president of the United States must not squander this power until all hope is lost. That is the reason he did not get involved in the recent coal strike that tied up the eastern part of the country."

"But isn't a baseball strike much more serious to the nation than a coal strike?" she asked.

"To some people it is -- mostly the owners. But there are others in this country who are not baseball fans and couldn't care less."

"They can't be Americans."

"I'm sorry to say they are. Some are football fans. Others prefer to watch basketball, and many would rather play a sport of their own. It is this apathy that made the strike possible in the first place and could slow down a fast and just settlement."

"How can a sport that only requires nine men to each side affect so many people in the nation?"

"Because most American men were raised on baseball. When they became too old to play it, they preferred to watch other, more talented people compete on television during the long hot summer months. When you take baseball away from their screens, you create an entertainment void in this country that can't be measured. There are just so many times any human being can watch a rerun of 'M*A*S*H.' If the strike goes on much longer, no one knows what could happen in the city streets this July."

The lady said, "The strike is only a week old, and my husband is starting to act strangely already. Is there anything I can tell him that will give him hope?"

"Tell him that Washington is watching the situation very carefully, and the president is being infomred of the negotiations on the hours. Congressional leaders are also being briefed, and the White House situation room is in direct contact with the Chicago Cubs."

"If there is no settlement soon, will the president call out the National Guard?"

"Only if Billy Martin starts kicking dirt at the federal negotiators."