Let's guess how much money Doug Ault makes.

Wonderful. Who is Doug Ault?

A first baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Oh, that Doug Ault.

A big guy, 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds. Bats right, throws left. Spent five years in the minor leagues, where he hit from 262 to .343. This is his first year in the majors. He was the 16th players drafted by the Blue Jays when the American League teams put up players for the expansion franchise.

How much is he being paid? Nothing, probably. The miximum, $19,000 a year. And happy to get it


So who cares about Doug Ault?

Pay attention. Ault is hitting 258 this season with seven home runs and 38 runs batted in.

Worth $19,000 if he's worth a penny.

Let's ask another question. You've heard of Reggie Jackson? You know Joe Rudi, Gary Matthews and Don Baylor, Gene Tenace and Dave Cash, Bobby Grich, Sal Bando and Bert Campaneris?

All free agents. They got rich last winter.

By popular accounting in the public prints, those nine players are said to have signed contracts worth a total of $15.7 million. That's an average deal of $1.74 million each. Not bad. Makes Doug Ault's one-year, $19,000 contract seem kid's stuff.

They're all big stars.

Here's another question. If you took these big star's statistics this season, added them up and divided for an average, what kind of year do you think they're having?

Well . . .

They're having a Doug Ault season. The nine guys are hitting an average of .258 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in. For $1.74 million, these guys are producing $19,000 years.

The pitchers are not doing much better. Wayne Garland, Don Gullett, Rollie Fingers, Bill Campbell and Doyle Alexander - Free agents all, they signed for a total of $7.8 million, or $1.56 million each - are having a 7-5 season with an earnedrun average a little more than 4.00.

That's Chris Knapp season. He's a rookie with the White Sox who is 7-4 now with an ERA of 4.16. If he's being paid more than the minimum, it's not much more.

And the White Sox are leading the league.

Nine teams spent a reported $23.5 million on these 14 free agents. Of those nine teams, only two currently are higher than fourth place in their division. And those two, the Yankees and Red Sox, were already good enough to have finished first and third last season.

So you're saying all those owners are clowns who wouldn't know a baseball player if one spiked him.

Let's just say Gene Autry could sing and ride a horse at the same time, but as the owner of the California Angels he put out $5.3 million for Rudi, Grich and Baylor - three guys averaging .242 with 10 homes runs and 35 runs batted in. And the cowboy's team, fourth last season, currently is fifth in its division.

And the Cubs, White Sox and Dodgers, who signed none of these 14 free agents, are in first place.

Look at George Steinbrenner. Had he spent $2.9 million on bubble gum instead of Jackson, the Yankee might be playing baseball instead of remaking the Civil War. And Ted Turner. For the $1.9 million he gave Matthews, Turner has been rewarded with the transformation of the Braves from a fifth-place team into a sixth-place team.

So there'll be fewer new millionaires in doubleknit next season. If the owner's capacity for foolishness is enormous, it yet stops short of insanity. And nobody is long going to pay $1.74 million for a $19,000 season.

What about our $19,000 hero? If Doug Ault is producing the same statistics as the seven-figure free agents, shouldn't he be paid the same? Surely he is unhappy.

Not at all. "I'm having a great time," Ault said by telephone from Chicago, where the Blue Jays played the White Sox last night. The free-agent issue has never entered his mind, he said, and he's happy to be in the big leagues, even if his contract is a one-year deal for "notquite close to a million."

Doug Ault laughed at that one.