With the growing public perception of an improving economy and without a popular issue to call their own, the Democratic challengers for 1984 have generally been unable to put the Republican president on the political defensive. However, there remains one major constituency--certainly "the better part" of the electorate--that no Democrat has yet had the requisite wit or will to woo. It is an unsilent majority, eager to be energized and enlisted: all those loyal and intelligent Americans who despise the New York Yankees baseball team.

In a nation that invariably roots for the modest and needy underdog, the Yankees are now, and always have been, the rich and arrogant overdog. Each season, only two of major league baseball's teams can make it all the way to the World Series. In the last 61 years, the Yankees have been one of those two teams 33 times. But it is not that Yankee success that opposing fans resent; it is the economic imperialism that has long been the Yankees' hallmark.

Now to the 1984 Democrats, one of whose timid managers will be heard arguing that the Yankees have a lot of fans whose votes would be permanently lost to the candidate who criticized the team. The Yankees, it must be understood, are the baseball equivalent of Chase Manhattan. Yankee fans are tragic misanthropes who send get-well cards to OPEC, who cheer for absentee landlords against shivering tenants in January and sweltering tenants in July, who want the money market to do better than the neighborhood mom and pop store.

All the speech and research material any candidate would require on this key issue can be found in one convenient place: a new book by Baltimore Orioles fan William B. Mead, entitled "The Official New York Yankees Hater's Handbook." Here irrational prejudices can be factually justified. For example, it is good to remember that baseball's greatest broadcaster, Red Barber, was fired by the Yankees. Just as it is helpful to learn that in 1976, the Yankee players--the best-paid in baseball--voted against giving any share of their World Series money to the team's batboys. After it was reported that their series opponents, the Cincinnati Reds, had voted their batboys $6,591 each, the Yankees reconsidered and gave each batboy a hundred dollars.

In George Steinbrenner, their bully-owner, the Yankees have a practicing supply-sider. Obviously Steinbrenner believes that the huge salaries he pays (a potential $22.5 million to Dave Winfield through 1990) entitle him to ridicule and humiliate his employees. The bottom line can be hard-line. In their pinstripe uniforms, which must have been inspired by a Dow- Jones average, the Yankees have baseball's highest payroll and lowest morale. According to Mead, the Yankee payroll is made possible, at least in part, by the huge payments the team receives for radio and television rights for its home games. In 1982, the Baltimore Orioles were paid $1.05 million for broadcast rights, the Yankees six times as much.

So, for Democrats skittish about singing the tune of big government or attacking the third year of the tax cuts, the Yankees are available. Remember: there are more Yankee-haters than Yankee fans and it's a terrific way of taking on the unpopular rich and powerful without ever mentioning the Republican incumbent.