Don't tell a major league pitcher that this year's baseball, the one with "Rawlings" stamped on the outside, is the same as that good old pill that had "Spaulding" on the cover for the last century.

Pitchers don't need statistics. They don't have to look at the numbers and see that - three weeks into the season - home runs in the National League are up 57 per cent, and 47 per cent in the Amewrican League.

Pitchers have ears. Rabbits ears. They'll tell you that this new ball even sounds strange when it's hit. Grip it tightly and you can feel its rabbit heart beating.

Rumors started in spring training that baseball's switch from Spaulding to Rawlings was producing some transcontinental hom runs.

Now the figures are in on the first 188 games of the season (through Monday) nearly one-tenth of the season. There is no longer doubt. The new Rawlings ball is vastly different, more "alive."

In 1976, the American League averaged 1.16 home runs per game for both teams, and 8.02 runs. This year's figures are 1.70 home runs and 8.88 runs. In other words, a 47 per cent increase in home runs has resulted in an 11 per cent jump in runs scored.

"Expansion," you say. "Diluted pitching staffs."

That may be true in the American League but the National League's hitters are going even crazier, pushing and 7.96 runs to 1.80 homers and 9.56 runs, increases of 57 and 20 per cent respectively.

Of course, it is risky to extrapolate an entire season on the basis of 188 games. Nevertheless, the oldest baseball cliche is that pitchers are ahead of hitters in the spring and that no ont expects to hit until the weather gets hot.

Don't tell Ron Cey of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Penguin has 25 RBI and seven home runs after 15 games. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday he drove in a dozen runs in three days.

And don't tell Phil Niekro, Jamie Easterly and Mike Beard. When the shelling stopped Monday night the Cincinnati Reds had plastered those three gentlemen of the Atlanta mound staff for 23 runs - in the first five innings.

On a Sunday afternoon seven teams hit double figures and three others had nine runs in a game. Ask Rick Wise of Boston, who entered hast night's start against Milwaukee with an ERA of 54.00, how he likes Rawlings.

Actually, Rawlings has the simplest of explanations for all these simplest of explanations for all these fireworks. They admit they planned it all this way.

"We envisioned this type of controversy." says Rawlings' designated spokesman on the ball issue, Mike Kavanaugh. "We're not manufacturing a rabbit ball.But maybe the other people (Spaulding) were making a turtle ball for the last three years."

Rawlings points to elementary statistics to prove its point.

In 1973 Rawlings actually made 60,000 balls for major league baseball, but Spaulding stamped its trade name on the ball. "Rawlings and Spaulding were part of one company for years," says Kavanaugh. "It was routine for them to stamp out balls."

But for the last three years Spaulding handled the entire ball manufacturing business, winding them in its home base of Chicopee, Mass, then sending them to Haiti to be wrapped. Rawling - then and now - does the entire process in Haiti.

In 1973, the last year that the majors actually used Reach and Rawlings balls (stamped with Spaulding's name), there were 3,102 home runs hit. Four NLers had more than 40.

But in 1974 and 1975, using the Chicopee-to-Haiti ball which many said lost some of its compression in transit, big league homers fell 2,649 and 2,698.

By mid-1975 the majors were aggravated with the less lively ball and switched to Rawlings, citing lower prices.

"It might not be fair to say that Spaulding lost interest in the quality of its balls, knowing it was their last year of production," said Kavanaugh, "but only 2,235 homes runs were hit last year. That's a drop of 867 home runs between 1973 when we made the ball and 1976. That's quite a remarkable statistic."

"If home run production went back up to the old 3,100 level, we would be pleased and think it simply meant we are making a better ball."

"Our ball meets all big league specifications, but if is also true that within those specs you can doctor the balls, wind them tighter. We simply think our ball is fair."

Certainly all hitters agree. last season big Dave Parker of Pittsburgh caused a furor by hitting a line drive that disintegrated as it passed over the second baseman's head.

"It was incredible. The thing exploded like a big ball of cotten and died like a quail," said an eye witness. "You think you're going blind."

That should not happen any more. "That ball we used last year was a disgrace to the game," said Jeff Burroughts of Atlanta this week after walloping his sixth homer. "Covers flew off. The balls were soft. I like to think they are just making them now the way they are supposed to be made."

Just don't say that around a pitcher.