Things I have learned: (A) When boxing never drop your guard even if the other guy seems very tired. (B) When attempting to hit a baseball, do not close your eyes. (C) When writing a column downplay your mistakes.

Having violated A and B (the former resulting in a broken nose, the latter in an empty seat on the Cleveland Indians farm team bus) let me take a stab at C before leaving on vacation: Made a dumb mistake in Wednesday's column. Too bad because it was a rare column full of good (for a change) news for feds and retirees who have been getting lots of bad news lately.

The good news -- that there will not be a 150 percent health premium increase next year, nor cutbacks in benefits for feds injured on the job -- is true. Senate-House conferees have agreed not to burden the Federal Employees Health Benefits program with retiree bills now paid by Social Security, and not to make drastic Regan-administration-proposed changes in the Federal Employees Compensation Act.

What I did wrong was give an incomplete plug to unions and retiree groups that worked long and hard to persuade congressional budget cutters to lay off the FEHB and FECA programs. Their muscle and long hours of lobbying saved feds and retirees from big cuts in take-home pay next year, and preserved benefits for persons who may be injured on the job in future. The unions and retiree groups are responsible for saving the two programs from the long knives and deserve credit for it.

My four-letter mistake was in leaving out the name of the NTEU (National Treasury Employees Union). It was a slip, a momentary brain lapse, a goof. Worse because I had spent half the day talking to NTEU legislative types who explained the complicated situation.

NTEU spokesman Jerry Klepner said he read the column on the beltway (I hope he wasn't driving) and "darn near stopped the car and got sick" when he saw NTEU was not listed as one of the unions responsible for saving the two benefits. It was one of them and definitely should have been listed.

Klepner didn't say so, but my impression was that it was a good thing I wasn't hitchhiking along his stretch of road that morning. Can't blame him. Although various unions worked togather to help save the benefits, they are, after all, rivals. They like to see their names (favorably) in print, and have been known to reprint and distribute items that make the opposition appear to be dumb, ineffective or indifferent. NTEU should have been listed as one of the primary good guys in this lobbying effort. Sorry about that.