Those baseball fans who enjoy public mayhem have grown to love Rod Carew.

For weeks, the American League's seven-time batting champ has been bludgeoning three worthies over the skull with a fiscal lead pipe.

The victims are Calvin Griffith, George Steinbrenner and Gene Autry. No jury of fans will ever convict Carew, since many a baseball juror thinks those three plaintiffs should long ago have stood in the dock.

Too many have waited too long to hear a player say what Carew did about Minnesota owner Griffith: "I refuse to play for a bigot."

Almost as many people cheered when Carew ended negotiations with New York last weekend by saying, "I cannot be bought... I am offended when I read about the Yankees and 'What George wants, George gets'... I am not merchandise."

When Carew came into long-term possession of $4 million of Angel owner Autry's dollars just by signing his name, few cried for the millionaire cowboy. After all, Autry's great desire has been to prove that one league could have two Steinbrenners. He is the man who would be George.

For those who, in this Year of the Holdup, have been waiting interminably for a major league star who will set an example for youth, it has been a pleasure to watch Carew's assault and battery.

Just as pleasant has been the strongarm work behind the scenes of that well-known barrister and accomplice Bowie Kuhn.

Baseball has won -- or been dumblucky again -- on several fronts in recent days.

The signing of Carew with California, as well as Jim Rice of Boston and Dave Parker of Pittsburgh renegotiating long-term contracts with their old teams, insures that, at the highest superstar level, the game will retain some stability and sense of fair play into the '80s. Enormous salary inflation is at hand, but not, as yet, general club-jumping chaos or destruction of competitive balance.

Carew in particular, Rice and Parker to a lesser degree and even Pete Rose have shown this winter that players are awakening to the importance of motivations other than insatiable greed for gobs of money and fame.

"I really didn't want to get involved in all of the fighting and controversy that goes on in the Yankee clubhouse," Carew said.

"I don't particularly want to be the highest-paid player in baseball," said Rice, signed for $5.4 million. "It's a disadvantage... everybody is on you all the time."

"I could have gotten more money, maybe, by waiting a year and playing out my option," said Parker, Pittsburgh's long-overlooked Dude the Obscure, "but that option season has messed with a lot of guys' minds. I want sanity and security."

"I took the lowest of the final five offers," said Rose, after getting a now paltry-looking $3.2 million from Philadelphia. "Some of my best friends are on the Phils. I want to play on the same team with people I like."

Plato can rest easy, his reputation not endangered by these philosophers in spikes. Such comments, which seem shockingly like common sense, are atypical by traditional baseball standards.

Perhaps Minnesota Manager Gene Mauch, talking about Carew last season, spoke for many current stars by saying, "I don't think Rodney wants any more attention or fame than he has had here in Minnesota. He knows just how much distraction he can stand. He is wise about himself, like Hank Aaron was in Milwaukee and Atlanta."

Bowie the Brassknuckle Boss also has scored well. Kuhn, on his 10th auniversary Sunday as commissioner, showed again that while he seldom cooks up brilliant grand designs, he, nevertheless, has a strong gut sense of what "the good of baseball" means when it comes to player transactions.

Kuhn -- who passed the word that he would void any Carew trade where money, rather than players changed hands -- understood baseball's most crucial problem of the moment in the wake of the Yankee free agent signings of Luis Tiant and Tommy John. The commissioner had to do anything short of kidnapping to keep Carew out of pinstripes. His "no bucks" edict helped the Angels, hurt the Yanks.

Many a dispassionate fan, even those who were thrilled by the gritty championship of the '78 Yanks, have spent the hot stove season muttering, "If the Yanks get Carew, too, I'm going to be sick." The great Twin wandsman stood for some psychic watershed -- a sort of true fan's gagging point.

Other New York grabs were increasingly distasteful. Catfish Hunter was O.K. and Reggie Jackson Swallows New York City was fine theater.

But the gobbling up of Don Gullett was greed tinged with envy of Cincinnati excellence: if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. It became clear that owner Steinbrenner was a consummate capitalist, but no sportsman at all.

Anyone who attacked Steinbrenner strictly for his tactics was both naive and unfair. He was a businessman who was the first in his profession to grasp the tilted rules of a new game -- tilted, at least potentially, in his direction.

So Steinbrenner played robber baron hard ball, further reinforcing the impression that he was the sort of chap who, as a boy playing Monopoly, probably built hotels on Boardwalk as soon as his mother's old shoe got past Jail.

The last straw for many a non-Yankee fan came when Steinbrenner added Tiant and John to his bottomless stock of talent, clearly buying them as much to injure their old teams -- Boston and Los Angeles -- as to help the pat-hand New Yorkers.

When Carew became an Angel, the sports heavens smiled on baseball once more.

For several years baseball has been endearing itself once more to a fickle public with a succession of excellent pennant races and World Series, plus individual explosions by such gents as Rose, Foster, Carew, Guidry and Rice.

Had Carew become a Yankee, at whatever price, that momentum would not only have shifted, but been thrown into reverse. The entire '79 season might well have been played under a surly cloud as the New Yorkers strove for the grossest of all bully-boy championships.

Now, Carew has let the sunshine through -- and, in the process, the thin man who seldom hits home runs has bushed a couple of swelled heads.