The Maryland Racing Commission's handling of the entire "Perry Affair" has been inept.

First, the five-man board was unable to decide on one steward to replace Merrall MacNeille, who retired Dec. 31. So to satisfy everyone, they named three men to the one job.

This was ridiculous. A justification might have been made for naming one full-time steward to succeed MacNeille, plus one young associate steward. The associate would have filled in when the senior members went on vacation or desired some time off from the six-day-a-week grind that has put added strain on the stewards since Maryland began year-round racing in 1975.

But three appointees!

John Perry was one, along with Lawrence Lacey and Clinton Pitts. Eddie Litzenberger, the candidate most qualified for the position, finished out of the money.

Perry's appointment, in particular, was criticized. The American Trainers Association wrote a letter to the commission deploring the board's choice. perry, 31, lacked the proper experience, the ATA charged.

Pimlico's management, which backed Litzenberger, was openly irate. Many Maryland owners and trainers also opposed Perry, on the same grounds, even though the leaders of the state's horsemen and the state's breeders associations were, rather surprisingly, his strongest supporters.

After all, he is the son-in-law of Newtie Brewer, former racing commission chairman.

Perry, Lacey and Pitts were appointed associate stewards in late December. Why five men should be expected to handle racing matters than three was never explained. The stewards' rulings figured to become more inconsistent than ever, over the years, if that were possible. After all if the commission couldn't make a clear-cut decision, why should their appointees be able to?

Perry's appointment lasted less than two months. Bob Banning, the commission chairman, announced Saturday that Perry had been suspended because of circumstances surrounding a 10-year-old drug conviction in New Jersey. The board had known about the drug incident before making the appointment, but the reports its originally received indicated marijuana was involved. A later, more complete report, found that he had been accused of using heroin.

"No one asked him if the charge involved heroin," Banning admitted, "but I asked him if there was anything else I should know about him, before naming him to the post, and he said, 'no.'"

Perry says he assumed the commission had the complete report and knew about the entire case that led to reduced charges, a $250 fine and his driver's license being suspended for one year in 1968.

The commission, which didn't mind naming new stewards before a thorough background investigation had been completed, was even quicker to vote, unanimously, to ask Perry to resign. It marked the first time the commission had unanimously agreed on anything since they appointed three stewards.

If he resigns, Perry was told, he could continue to work as an entry clerk in the racing secretary's office in the morning and as a placing or patrol judge in the afternoon. When Perry refused to resign as a steward - his first assignment was to be Pimlico this spring - he was suspended from his other track jobs as well.

Perry has retained a lawyer and intends to contest the commission's supension, although, it would seem, a steward in any state serves at the pleasure of the state's racing commission.

Monday, the commission stayed the suspension order, allowing Perry to resume his duties as a placing judge and entry clerk at Bowie.

So round and round and round goes this latest little bit of lunacy in Maryland racing. At a time when the state's thoroughbred industry is trying desperately to put its best foot forward in Annapolis, in an effort to gain legislative approval for higher purses, the "Perry Affair" stands out as an excellent example of hold the sport should not be conducted, on several counts.

Perry has been treated shabbily by the commission. Then again, he should not have been appointed as a steward by the commission in the first place.