What a choice for New Yorkers passing their newsstands yesterday. The New York Daily News shouted its headline, "Yogi's Out, Billy's Back," while the New York Post trumpeted, "Yogi's Out -- Billy's Back!"

Lest one suggest that either of the tabloid competitors "borrowed" the headline from the other, hear the assurances of those in charge:

"You'll find that they copied us," said Post Metropolitan Editor Steve Dunleavy, who added that the Daily News came out with a longer version in its first editions and later changed it to the Post's variation.

Demurred New York Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Joe Kovach, "It happens often. We come out first on our national edition, and they get a copy of our paper. Oftentimes they pick it up and try to steal it or adapt it.

"They don't have any reporters over there so they have to come over after our first edition and try to milk our paper dry. They borrow stories, headlines -- that way they don't have to have much of a staff," Kovach said.

In truth, the timing of the two editions makes it possible that two separate headline writers came up with the headline spontaneously. The News' second-edition headline, which was the same as the Post's first edition headline, was written before the Post hit the streets.

"It ain't exactly the world's greatest headline," said Daily News Managing Editor James P. Willse, who acknowledges that he wrote it. "It's entirely possible that two small minds would have no trouble coming up with this one." Prizes and Judges

Pulitzer Prizes, like Oscars, are the subject of joy, sorrow and debate. After each year's choices, there are always stories about which people were almost picked or who wasn't chosen.

Pulitzer board members this year managed to free themselves from the usual stories about how they "overturned" the suggestions from panels of journalists who weed through mounds of copy or cartoons and come up with potential winners. Normally the nominating panels rank their picks -- one, two, three -- but this year they were on orders to choose three without suggesting a favorite.

Those close to the decision making this year said the toughest category for the judges was in international reporting, which Newsday won for its series on hunger in Africa. The other two finalists were David Zucchino for his coverage of the Lebanon war for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times for its coverage of Indira Gandhi's death.

The Times package included a remembrance of Mrs. Gandhi by executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, which some judges thought was excellent but others apparently felt should not be part of the Pulitzer offering.

"It was a bad day for the biggies," said one judge, meaning that no Pulitzers went to The Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal.

The Los Angeles Times, which won a Pulitzer for television criticism, also seemed to have taken a punch from the panels, which did not nominate its Herculean efforts to cover the summer Olympics. The Times mobilized most of the massive paper's staff for a special daily edition during the games in Los Angeles last summer.

Instead, the panels recommended two other California papers for their work on the games: the Long Beach Press-Telegram for its photo of the Mary Decker-Zola Budd race and The Register in Santa Ana, which won the prize for spot news photography. Back From London

The betting among reporters at The New York Times for years has been that nothing but a peerage would be enough to make R.W. (Johnny) Apple Jr. leave his august position as London bureau chief. Not so. Apple is planning to return to Washington in October to replace Hedrick Smith, who is planning to go on leave for a year to write a book about the nation's capital.

Asked what lured him out of the land of tweeds and porridge, Apple said, "I've been here nine years, and they asked me to do this job, and I thought it sounded mildly interesting, to put it in our understated English way."

A jack-of-all-beats who has written stories on everything from architecture to war, from politics to gourmet food -- Apple recently gave advice on how to pack a suitcase for a Times Sunday fashion section -- Apple said he is ready to tackle the sometimes arcane issues that dominate Washington.

"I don't know whether I can still walk that high wire in Washington," said Apple in a telephone interview from London, where he is recuperating from a back ailment. Secrets of the Pool

Everybody, including the Pentagon, suspects that it is the nature of journalists to blab. But when the Defense Department called up a test "pool" April 20 and asked 10 news organizations to keep it secret, most of them managed it.

Matt Quinn of UPI told his dinner guests he was going to New York to visit his sick grandmother. Newsweek's Kim Willenson told his wife to tell friends he would be in the Midwest on a family emergency.

Then there was The New York Times-Wall Street Journal softball game the next day. A burning issue for the two bureau chiefs, each with a man on the secret pool, was whether to appear. Times Washington editor Bill Kovach decided against it. Albert Hunt, who heads the Washington bureau of The Journal, felt it would look suspicious if he didn't appear, so he went. "I was just dying. I thought we were going to war," said Hunt, who did not know until later that the pool was a test.

Kovach, who believed it was a real press pool covering a real invasion until the story appeared in The Washington Post, said he concentrated on making sure that if there were leaks, The Times wouldn't get the blame:

"It says something about how you begin to think in Washington, I guess, because when Rick Atkinson of The Post called me, I thought it was another part of the test. I thought they had purposely leaked it to The Washington Post to see if the rest of the pool would start telling."

Most participants believe that there were two leaks from the press, the first reportedly from Robert Witten, a Mutual Radio Network reporter on the pool, to his wife, Deborah Potter of CBS News. Although he will not reveal his source, CBS News Bureau Chief Jack Smith was the first "unauthorized" call to the Pentagon about seven hours after the pool was launched.

The real "hemorrhage," according to press and Pentagon officials, came when a Mutual official called eight other radio networks on Sunday morning to set up telephone lines for transmitting pool reports from Central America. All were told to keep the news secret. Within hours, virtually every major news organization began calling the city's officialdom for some kind of confirmation.

Some Pentagon military men were clucking "I told you so" when word started spreading like small-town gossip about 12 hours after the first calls were made, but many old news hands were stunned that a secret could last that long. Bridge Experts

Loyal readers of Alan Truscott, bridge columnist for The New York Times, were amazed and perhaps bewildered by last Thursday's offering. The column, quickly labeled a "keeper" by those who collect journalism's more bizarre moments, began with the sad tale of the death of Florence Osborn, 74, a fellow bridge columnist with The New York Herald Tribune from 1936 to 1966. Truscott then went on to tell how her husband, Harold, had been charged with stabbing her and how he was treated for an attempted suicide.

Lest the column stray too far into crime news, however, it moved quickly to explain how Florence Osborn once offered readers "a difficult defensive problem on the diagrammed deal pictured next to the column , showing the West and North hands."

The final three paragraphs, perhaps a fitting epitaph for a bridge writer, discussed how such a hand would be played now that times have changed.