A large vat would be too small to hold the adrenalin this fan did not spill over the baseball strike.

Which isn't at all to dismiss some quite ominous signs. You can hardly help noticing that baseball is sliding -- fast -- into the great American self-indulgence. Baseball teams would seem to be costing at least 30 percent more than anyone, even the beer barons who underwrite the TV contracts, is willing to pay.

If you thought the U.S. government was the only all- American enterprise running at a loss, think again.

Like the millions of us who sup at Uncle Sam's table, big- league baseball players are doing very well out of the paper economy; $350,000 a year is now usually given as the "average" compensation.

Such salaries are easy to justify in their own narrow terms, especially if you consider that iron men like Pete Rose are scarce, even in baseball. So like Social Security pensioners, like defense contractors making an obsolescent anti-tank weapon, players can tell themselves they won't be around forever, so what the hell.

The hell is, as usual, a deficit. The single most striking item of intelligence emerging from the strike (at least for those of us who do not regularly follow baseball economics) is that perhaps five or six teams are for sale, but without willing buyers.

Salary overheads are now so big that even the rich folk who buy baseball teams as hobbyhorses can't expect to recoup their losses when they tire of their toys.

It seems all but inevitable, then, that the next big shock for baseball could be the sudden announcement that some ailing team is to be closed, like a bankrupt business. Not sold; not stolen or smuggled in the wee hours to another city.


One can picture the national spasm to follow. The bereaved city will argue that it's illegal, not to say unconstitutional, to close a shrine sacred to the national pastime. President Reagan will deplore it. Peter Ueberroth will cite the Declaration of Independence, while on Capitol Hill Congress and the Supreme Court will go into a twi-nite 30-inning double-header of debate. (It will very much resemble a federal budget emergency.)

Mind you, these gloomy and, one prays, erroneous imaginings are not prompted by the urge to pick on baseball -- only by the realization that baseball, too, has enlisted in the national folly: too many being paid too much; too few paying too little.

Seldom has so strikingly interconnected a Big Picture emerged than could be seen in the newspapers for Aug. 8. There you could see clearly the features common to the federal budget dilemma, the baseball dilemma and, yes, even the dilemma of the unpaid federally guaranteed student loans.

Even as it proclaimed the end of the baseball strike, with full details, and issued its daily editorial warning about the budget deficit, The Washington Post carried an inside story on the efforts of the U.S. Department of Education to collect through the courts some $48 million in delinquent student loans from 16,000 delinquents.

Some will be sued, others will settle. Secretary of Education William Bennett, in a brilliant stroke, has asked IRS to withhold tax refunds from those who won't pay.

But here's the unmistakable link. In interviewing a number of delinquents, The Post discovered that many are in the same boat with organized baseball and Uncle Sam. A recent medical graduate who owes $12,000 to the government explained that his total debt is $50,000. "I have so many loans going," he said, "that I can't keep track of who I owe what."

You could more easily label him a deadbeat if all this borrowing had not qualified him to enter the healing arts -- after all, he didn't put $50,000 on the cuff playing the horses. It's the same old story as in baseball and federal finance: excellent activities that nobody quite wants to pay for.

Was it inevitable that we should come, collectively, to this? Did we not long ago enshrine as the national patron saint of economy the sly, slippery Ben Franklin? And didn't Franklin, while preaching the balanced budget, live it up in London and Paris, setting a lavish table, sleeping late, even inviting the doting Parisian ladies to stroke his bald head?

A sage has said that however much money we have, we always need about 30 percent more, and that seems to be true of baseball, government and medical students -- and you and me. And if it isn't there, nowadays, we pretend it is anyway.