Joe Gilliam, whose career as a quarterback for the Baltimore Eagles semipro team and the Pittsburgh Steelers was shortened because of drug abuse, was beaten up by four men tonight at a West Baltimore intersection where his car was parked, police said.

Gilliam was reported in "lucid and stable" condition at the Shock Trauma Unit of University Hospital where John Ashworth, unit administrator, said he would be kept for observation for 24 to 48 hours.

Earlier in the night, there were reports that Gilliam had been shot twice in the head, but police said those erroneous reports apparently resulted from the incident first being reported as a serious shooting.

The assault took place in the 1500 block of Kensett Street, a narrow alley street just off Pennsyvlania Avenue in one of the poorest sections of town where drug-dealing is reported very prevalent.

Police said late tonight they had several suspects and hoped to make an arrest soon.

According to police, witnesses said four men armed with two-by-fours smashed out the windows of Gilliam's unoccupied car. When Gilliam returned to the car, the men jumped him and beat him about the head with what witnesses described as a sawed-off shotgun, police said.

Gilliam, 28, was an 11th-round draft choice of the Steelers out of Tennessee State in 1972. With the Steelers he completed 147 of 331 passes for 2,103 yards and nine touchdowns.

Known as Jefferson Street Joe, Gilliam got a tryout with the New Orleans Saints after going through a drug rehabilitation program. After being cut by the Saints, he joined the Baltimore semipro team.

He was playing for the Eagles this season when he suddenly decided to play for another semipro team in Birmingham, Ala. But he stayed there only a few days before returning recently to the Eagles.