A ballplayer of the New York Yankee A persuasion was being interviewed on television the other night and was asked what he thought of his owner, the irrepressible and infantile George Steinbrenner. Since Steinbrenner had been critical of that player, the man was careful with his words. ''He's the owner and he can say what he wants,'' said the courageous player.

It is this sort of thinking that has helped ruin baseball. What that player seemed to be saying was that if you happen to own a team, which means if you happen to have money, you can be as insulting as you want. Maybe only in baseball is money accorded such privilege.

Now Steinbrenner happens to be rich. He happens also to have the temperament of a brat in the body of a grown and somewhat paunchy man. He thinks because he has managed to make a lot of money that he has the right to insult his players -- an exclusive right at that. When someone else decided to insult the team, Steinbrenner went after the insulters with his fists and, according to his version of events, missed them both and hit the side of a hotel elevator. I am surprised he did not buy the hotel and have it torn down. SS teinbrenner may not be typical of S baseball but he is indicative of what is wrong with the game. It is all about money and almost nothing else. Whatever fiction once existed about teams and teamwork, about teams representing cities and about organizations producing winners, has been dispelled. The game is now about buying and selling and the team that wins is the team that does that the best.

Take the Yankees. Its stars were not men developed by their farm system or obtained through clever trading. Reggie Jackson started with the A's, went to Baltimore and became a Yankee when he became a free agent. The team bought him. The Yankees were not clever. They were not farsighted. They simply were rich. And now so is Jackson.

The same applies to Dave Winfield. He played for San Diego and then came to the Yankees as a free agent. Again, he was bought, and again all it took was money -- lots of it. This process made Winfield a rich man and helped make the Yankees a winning team but is about the same process that is considered immoral when applied to other human endeavors. Soldiers who fight for money are called mercenaries and people who love for money are called all kinds of dirty names. Only in baseball is money supposed to buy both talent and loyalty. OO f course, money and baseball and O indeed money and all sports have long been inseparable. Ballplayers have been bought and sold and it was clear a long time ago that baseball as an institution had no heart. When the Dodgers attempted to trade Jackie Robinson to the Giants, it was the end of the age of innocence.

But there is such a thing in this world as balance, moderation -- call it what you want. Whatever you call it, it is certainly lacking in the Yankess and maybe in baseball in general. An incredible greediness has permeated the game. Franchises are moved willy-nilly. Players have no loyalty to teams and the teams have no loyalty to the players and the whole mess is presided over by the likes of Steinbrenner and reported by the likes of Howard Cosell. It has all become bloated -- out of proportion and, as the kids like to say, ugh, gross.

There is no going back to the way things were. Television has changed baseball the way it has changed so many things. There was a time when players were developed by the team they played for and lived in the city where they worked. You could see them at local charity events. They owned bars in real neighborhoods and when they retired, they sometimes stayed in the city where they played ball.

All that is gone. There's too much money in the game. The face that baseball presents to the world is Steinbrenner's -- jowly, immature, constipated with rage and greed. Its message is that money talks and money can say whatever it wants. It can buy and it can sell and it can insult and it can, if it wants, take a swing at some kids in an elevator because they insulted the New York Yankees. Steinbrenner must realize now that he did the wrong thing.

He should have bought the kids and traded them.