ON THURSDAY NIGHT, New York Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield was idly tossing the ball back and forth with a colleague, which is the routine for outfielders between innings, when something wholly out of the routine occurred. One of his throws struck and killed a seagull standing on the artificial turf in Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Mr. Winfield said it was an accident, but a policeman thought it looked intentional and later ran the outfielder in. He was charged with cruelty to animals, but, not surprisingly, the prosecutor said yesterday he would ask that the charge be dropped.

The matter isn't over, however. Beyond Mr. Winfield's personal problem with Canadian justice, there is, you may be surprised to learn, a question involving the rules of baseball, which were wisely drawn to cover anything that could ever happen. In this case, an obscure sub-section on endangered and obnoxious species deals specifically with this situation. (We suggest, incidentally, that you take our word on this; don't be doing a lot of dreary research in this hot weather.) The rule reads as follows:

"In the event a player shall, whether by accident or design, kill an unoffending animal during the course of the game, the owner of that player's team shall, so long as said owner be one George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, bear ultimate responsibility, and shall make symbolic restitution to the species involved and to the fans who witnesed the death of said creature in the following manner: having fashioned or had fashioned for himself a costume representing as faithfully as possible the appearance of the fish, fowl or other animal killed, and flapping wings or gills or whatever other anatomical features are appropriate, he shall circle the basepaths four times shouting, 'I'm sorry; my team is sorry; we're really, really sorry.'"

An equally obscure paragraph in another section of the rules goes on to detail the subsequent obligation of "any person named George Steinbrenner affected by the rule concerning an animal killed during the course of a game." It is to "remove himself to a monastery or other place of religious or philosophical contemplation that is remote and without means of communication and which is governed by strict vows of silence, there to remain and do penance until November 1 or the completion of the baseball season, whichever shall come later."

The American League's duty is as clear as anything can be at this time of August. It is in fact as clear as pine tar. President MacPhail, do what must be done.