BASEBALL IS BACK, and Washington doesn't have it again this year. In fact, starting May 22, no city may have baseball. That's the date the players' association has set for a general strike unless its dispute with the team owners, centering on proposed restrictions on the players' free-agent mobility, is resolved.

We devoutly hope the disagreement is settled without a strike, because everyone needs a heavy dose of baseball just about now.

Baseball is both an art form and an entertainment almost totally free of violence. To play baseball well, as major league players must, requires coordination, courage and grace in abundance. And the really nice thing about baseball players is that they don't look like the last stages of a group experiment in steroid stuffing. Pete Rose could be anybody. The sad part is that not everybody can be Pete Rose.

We in Washington need baseball desperately, probably more for the pace and nature of baseball than for the sport itself. The language of baseball is remarkably straightforward and unpretentious: hits, runs, errors, outs, strikes and balls. No parameters or temporary guidelines or interim reports on duplication and overlap awaiting interface with the task force.

In addition, the rules of baseball, under which a Washington team last won the pennant in the first year of FDR's first term, remain virtually unchanged today. You are out or you are safe -- no lengthy review and appeals process. In baseball, decisions are made and their consequences are known almost immediately. There is no time for a pilot project or a supplemental appropriations when the manager has a tiring ace on the pitcher's mound.

One other positive feature of baseball in our stepped-up, hyped-up life is that baseball is timeless. No clocks, watches, two-minute warnings or final gun. In baseball, your destiny is in your own hands, and that's not all bad. You do not run out of time in baseball. Your opponent is simply better at getting you out on a particular day than you are at getting him out. Baseball, without all the "long bombs," "blitzes" and gang tackling, owes it to all of us, in this city and cities that are lucky enough to have their own teams, to avoid a strike. Especially in 1980, we need baseball more than ever: baseball's constancy, baseball's timelessness, baseball's directness. Then, perhaps, we can get about the serious business of getting our own team again, regardless of what we have to do to get it.