Traces of National league overconfidence have run through the entire World Series.

"If that's the best the Yankees can execute fundamental plays, then we ought to beat them easy," said Los Angeles Dodger catcher Steve Yeager after New York's sloppy 12-inning victory in Game 1.

"We're not losing. We're just behind," said Dodger slugger Dusty Baker, in a most curious response to LA's second beating.

"I wanted to give our starting pitchers an extra day's rest," said L.A. manager Tommy Lasorda in a rationale for starting Doug Rau in Game 4 with his team down two games to one. The NL has fallen for its own propaganda about its string of All-Star game victories meaning it is a significantly better league. That thinking was the old Oakland A's best friend from 1972 through 1974.

"The National League is a fast ball pitcher's league and the All-Star game is a fast ball game. No pitcher can go more than three innings, so everybody throws heat. Therefore, the game is usually won by the league with the better fast ball pitchers and hitters. That is the National," said one AL official.

Reggie Jackson is reported in this week's issue of Time magazine to have told New York Yankee principal owner George Steinbrenner he will not play for the team next year if Billy Martin is the manager.

Time includes sharp criticism of Martin by Jackson. "Jackson cost this club a lot of games this season," Martin is quoted as saying. "He's a decent, smart man, but he's baseball dumb."

Amid all those reports that the Yankees will accommodate catcher Thurman Munson by dealing him to Cleveland, apparently nobody has consulted the Indians.

"I see where we're getting Munson," Indian general manager Bill Seghi told UPI, "and all we're going to give up is Dennis Eckersley, Rick Manning and Buddy Bell. That's only the heart of our bell club."

No. 1 topic of Series conversation: Why is baseball suddenly so popular once again.

Several frequently heard suggestions: the controversies in recent years over free agents, their salaries and their defections have created year-round publicity and interest.

Corollary: conflict and open anger, like that on the Yankees, usually hypes attendance.

"Controversies have contributed to the record attendance we have had all over baseball," Yankee general manager Gabe Paul said.

"We thought that buying free agents would tear down traditional allegiances to teams," Boston Red Sox official Bill Crowley said.

The movement of players in trades and free agents has been incredible in the last three years. Whole teams are turning over in less than five years.

"But people seem to love it. We're beginning to think that people's attention span is getting shorter with the years. They want new faces every season.

"Maybe the whole free-agent war is a bonus in disguise. After all, college football and basketball teams turn over almost half their starting players every year, but their fans never seem to care as long as you win."

"Our team is built on pitching and defense," insists Yank Lou Piniella, ignoring the New Yorkers' major league high .281 average. "Our weakness is that our bats sometimes get lethargic."

"I knew Lou Piniella," Lasorda said, "when he didn't know what 'lethargic' meant."