THE PHANTASM of a subway series floats over baseball this summer, and we hope it gets in a few good innings

before it disappears into the autumn mist. We're talking of a World Series contested entirely within the city of New York (not the interleague regular season games for which the term has been appropriated in recent years). The last of these occurred 43 years ago, just to give you a little perspective. The Yankees, of course, are perennial favorites to win the American League pennant; the question is usually the Mets, who this year are surprising a lot of people by running even with the Atlanta Braves deep into the National League season.

The idea of a subway series exerts its greatest power over an aging cohort of men who remember the grand clashes between the Dodgers and Yankees in the 1950s and will, on fine October afternoons, seize any opportunity to declaim the names of yore -- Rizzuto, Reese, Campanella, Snider, Mantle, Newcombe, Ford and Berra -- to puzzled grandchildren. And there is no denying that it is a fine thing when this most traditional and American of sporting events can provide literary inspiration for the articulacy capital of the Western Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, just about everything in baseball works against its reliving some of its best days. To begin with, a team that finishes first in the regular season still has to make it though two series of playoffs to get to the World Series, greatly reducing the odds of an all-New York encounter. And even if it happens, there can never again be the same electricity that coursed through the big city when teams met in daylight hours on working days and people sneaked out of the office and the schoolroom, gathered around radios and TV sets wherever they could find them and lived and died together with every pitch.

One other little difference: In 1947, in the middle of a subway series, the Brooklyn Eagle printed a banner headline that read simply, DROP DEAD, YANKEES. Nowadays, in either of New York's ballparks, that sort of jaunty exhortation could end up making you an accessory to homicide.