Baseball keeps no statistic called "Most times going from first-to-third on infield outs."

Buf if it existed, Hal McRae would lead the league, just as he would rank first in catchers spiked, infielders terrorized and outfield walls dented with his body.

"I don't play friendship baseball," said the Kansas City Royals' gimpy firebrand. "I don't need to be liked by a lot of people."

At present the New York Yankees hate him. They hate his home runs and doubles and singles in this American League playoff, and the way he rounds every base as though the next one had a bag of gold under it ready to be snatched.

And they hate the way he has body-blocked their second baseman haltway to Queens, and thrown out runners from left field, and today went from first to third on a routine ground out, arriving at his destination with a head-first, fadeaway slide.

The Yankees have cursed McRae and publically vowed revenge if it takes, in manager Billy Martin's words. "1,500 years," and McRae has responded by laughing in their faces and dishing back a sneer.

"The Yankees are typical modern players . . . cautious," said McRae. "They protect their careers, their investments. I'm proud to be a throwback. I make every play as though it were my last.

"On a baseball field, I have no fear. That certainly includes the Yankees."

In a major league locker room, as well as on the field, McRae seems completely antithetical to his peers. He is proudly and defiantly the worst dressed man in baseball, adopting a sort of Early Ho Chi Minh Trail style.

His awful, baggy blue jeans - not prefaded and form-fitting, but just ancient and comfortable, are a perfect match for his raggedy fatigue jacket, desert boots and comical, long-billed Army hat.

"The guys call me 'Sergeant.'" McRae, said grinning while putting on the hat that has been a trademark for years. "I'm not a fancy dresser of a dangerous liver.

"I'm two completely different people. I love to stay at home and do nothing when I'm away from the park. I've got no temper, no hobbies, no need for adventures.

"Really, I'm nothin' once I leave the game. I have no fear on the field, but I'm afraid of a lot of things off it. In fact, I'm just a little leery about the way life's comin' down in general when baseball isn't concerned."

Over the past four years McRae has hit .311 for the Royals, finishing second and third in the race for two batting titles. This .298 season was actually McRae's best by far as he swung for more power, amassing 21 homers and 11 triples to go with 54 doubles - the highest double total since 1950.

Perhaps the most overlooked accomplishment of this season was the fact that McRae, not Cincinnati's George Foster or Boston's Jim Rice, had the most extra-base hits in baseball.

"I didn't know that," blinked McRae when told by a trivia fanatic. "I'm not good at promoting myself, getting more famous. For instance, New York has nothing to offer me."

The sense that he is both resented and feared, yet unappreciated, lurks just below McRae's exterior. "I have a little more ability than people think," he said, eyes down. "It's to my advantage for them to think I can't do anything. There are some third-base coaches around this league who are still shaking their heads about people I threw out at the plate."

It is almost unique for a player as driven as McRae to be able to put his finger exactly on the moment he became the player he is today. McRae can.

In winter ball in 1968 McRae, then the top minor-league prospect in the Cincinnati organization, broke his leg in four places in a collision at home plate. The Reds knew that McRae would never be the same, and that he might be finished.

"That injury made me," said McRae. "I was 22 and before it happened I had played hard at times and dogged it at times. I lay in that hospital and realized that here was a chance that my career was over and I'd never given it my best.

"I swore to myself," said McRae, "that if I ever played again, I would play."

And he has, sprinting in a hobbling, lame-dog fashion. "I could fly before the injury," said McRae, "but I've stolen more bases (40 the last two years) in the majors.

"I can't turn the bases sharply without pain, but I've learned to belly-out differently, kind of shuffling, and I can get to the same place at the same time that a faster runner can. I just have to do it my own way."

When McRae arrives, bullies fly, and sometimes the game takes on an unusual color - red.