Catfish Hunter didn't need any more bad news, but Thurman Munson came out to deliver it, anyway.

The first Los Angeles batter had put Hunter's third pitch of the sixth World Series game into the bleachers

Now, in the third inning, with Hunter nursing a one-run New York lead, the Dodgers had their two fastest men on base and their two best hitters coming to the plate.

Looking about, Hunter had little to cheer him. His infield contained a sub at first, a rookie sub at second, a dizzy man at third and a shortstop who had spent the day in the whirlpool.

The left fielder wanted to be traded, the grimpy center fielder had to be begged to play and the right fielder had just tried to knock down the outfield wall with his face. The wall won.

Munson, waddling out to talk to the pitcher, was no prize, either. The catcher's shoulder was so sore he had to thrwo to second base with with a goofy submarine motion.

"Well, Catfish," said the ever-encouraging Munson, "you better make damn sure you hit my glove exactly where I put it, 'cause you ain't got diddly squat tonight."

That moment captured the season-long predicament of the world champion New York Yankees. It also epitomized their grimy, stubble-bearded style.

"I told Capt. Bad Body to go on back there and just catch it after I threw it," said Hunter. "I'd already missed two days of the Carolina deer hunting season and I was in hurry to get home. I didn't want to play any seventh game."

Other teams might have been too tight to breathe in that crisis. The Yanks spit their tobacco and smoothed the dirt with their spikes.

"After what this teams been through, we've forgotten what tension is," said third baseman Graig Nettles. "You've gotta be totally relaxed between pitches; you've got to be human.

"If you're intense all the time, you burn yourself up. ANd I've seen a lot of guys who looked like they were about to explode from trying to beat us this year."

The next Dodger batter, Reggie Smith, hit a grounder that the rookie, Brian Doyle, turned into an inning-ending double play. The New Yorkers trotted off the field without any show of relief. If that moment swung the sixth and last Series game to the Yankees - and it probably did - then they never betrayed that knowledge.

"Splice the main brace (break out an extra ration of rum)," read the telegram from New York Gov. Hugh Carey after the Yanks had won their 22nd world title.

That was the right imagery, for the Yankees were swashbuckling pirates this season, hauling alongside the glamorous frigates of Boston, Kansas City and Los Angeles, then making the handsome, clean-cut Rex Sox, Royals and Dodgers walk the plank.

Like few baseball teams before them, the Yankees attacked weak links in their opponent's psyches, or at least exposed them. The high-strung were their natural victims.

Against Boston, it was taut Butch Hobson and bantam-rooster Rick Burleson who came unglued on defense.

For the Royals, it was 5-foot-4 Fred Patek, the shortstop whose headaches and nerves were so bad that he had to go home for a week in midpennant race to unwind. Patek went one for 13 with two errors against the Yanks.

For L.A., it was unfortunate Bill Russell, a splendidly likeable chap called "Ropes," who was the painfully hyperintense Yankee victim, the opponent who suddenly looked like a hummingbird that had just drunk a pot of black coffee.

Russell infected his whole skitterish team with his bobbles in the field.

While the Yanks unnerved and divided their foes - inflicting a water torture of hit-and-run grounders, seeing-eye bleeders, flares, quails, bunts and sharp liners - they drew closer together amongst themselves, hiding the chinks in their own emotional armor.

"The Yankees don't hit the ball hard enough," said L.A.'s Dusty Baker. "Then, all of a sudden, they hit it too hard."

"We finally became a team this eyar, a real team," said Series most valuable player Bucky Dent. "It was hard because we've got a club of 25 different guys . . . I mean really different."

"We're not the greatest ever, but we'll go down with anybody for courage," said post season clutchman Paul Blair. "Like the Oriole teams of the '60s, our basic goal is never to beat ourselves.

"Munson and Neattles are out anchors. Mickey Rivers ignites us by doing exciting, strange-booking things. Ron Guidry," said Blair, shaking his head at the though of a 27-3 pitcher, the one man who held the Yanks together, "well . . . he was like a shot of whiskey when you're freezing. he gets our hearts going again."

If someone named Reggie seems conspicuous by his absence, that is unavoidable. There is no such thing as a Yankee who will praise Reggie Jackson without prompting. Mr. October or Mr. Obnoxious, depending on perspective, has his own one-man publicity mill.

The Yanks are a team of 24 players and one designated hitting cleanup man. With the exodus of Billy Martin Jackson has finally returned to the role he enjoyed with Oakland.

Once more he can be relaxed, outlandish and brilliant, playing to the crowd always, but also producing in the clutch.

"Reggie's just Reggie," laughed one Yank. "Everything's not a crisis all the time now, so you can take him with a grain of salt if you want to."

Nevertheless, many a team has found a Jax Attack as hard to take as a barrel of pepper. On the nibbling New York Piranhas, Jackson is the one shark. The others gnaw you; Jackson swallows whole.

In his last 50 post season plate appearances, Jackson reached base 29 times, with 20 hits, eight homers, and 20 RBI. That doesn't include his game-winning homer in the Boston playoff.

Nevethelss, many a Yankee would get quiet satisfaction out of knowing that their leading run producer in this post season was not Jackson but Roy White, 12 to 17.

Besides Jackson, the other Yankee outsider is, ironically, owner George Steinbrenner. "You never gave up on us, did you George?" bellowed Nettles in the champagne-soaked Yank locker room when he saw Steinbrenner mugging and laughing for the cameras.