Tonight is, gulp, beer night in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium and fans attending the Indians-Detroit Tigers game can hoist a brew to salute the return of Buddy Bell - or cry in their cups at the news that a potential buyer for the franchise has suffered:

Robert E. Short.

Ted Bonda, Tribe president, confirmed that he had met with Short two weeks ago - "Short asked me about the club and I said it was available. He came to Cleveland and I told him the numbers (price) and all that, which is where things stand."

Short said from his office in St. Paul, Minn., "It's a long way from happening, but we're working at it. We'll be talking some more."

Controlling interest in the publicly owned Indians could be bought for an estimated $6.5 million, most of which would be used to pay the ball club's Cleveland banks.

Short has been chafing for another major league franchise since he sold control of the Texas Rangers nee Washington Senators to Brad Corbett and associates in May, 1975. He tried to buy the San Francisco Giants last year before he was headed off at the pass. The old Democratic National Committee treasurer has even drop-another go in Washington.

Cleveland fans, like those all over the American League, must be aware Short not only heisted the Nats out of the Nation's capital three years after he bought the franchise, but earlier sold the NBA Lakers out of his own hometown, Minneapolis, to Jack Kent Cooke on the West Coast.

But tonight, Indian followers can drown their worries over such specters and chugalung with Billy Carter - who's getting an estimated $5,000 fee (didn't he soak $10,000 the first couple of months?) as guest of honor - while digging into a ton of free peanuts. Virginia peanuts.

And let .301 hitter Bell know they forgive him for his one-day walkout Wednesday without explanation that ended his streak of consecutive games played at 234. Nothing to do with manager Frank Robinson, Bell explained later, just a personal problem he felt he had to be home for . . .

Of course, if the fans tear it up as they did at Cleveland beer night two or three years back, may be the whole team will walk out . . .