Hall of Fame ballots went out yesterday to more than 400 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and when the results are announced in January, the most likely of the 41 first-time eligibles to have drawn the 75 percent required for enshrinement has to be . . . Al Kaline. Others besides the 3,007-hit Tiger on the ballot for the first time include Orlando Cepeda, Norm Cash, Ron Santo -- but don't hold your breath on those . . .

The Red Baron got off to a flying start (like taking candy from a baby?) by interim-coaching the St. Louis Blues past the accommodating Capitals, 5-1, Saturday night -- and boss Emile Francis follows up with a green light for Red Berenson to take over as fullfledged coach of the NHL team in the Checkerdome. Berensen, 40, played for the Blues eight years before becoming assistant coach in 1978 under Barclay Plager, whom he succeeds. Berenson, who had an earlir baptism directing behind the bench for four games last month when Plager was hospitalized with "head trauma" from scar tissue on the brain, becomes the 12th coach in the franchise's 13 years. Let's hope the Caps don't match that . . .

NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien has told the players and told 'em again since the Kermit-Rudy T incident: no violence, or else. Else, in the cases of Boston's M. L. Carr, who threw a flagrant elbow that floored Kansas City's Scott Wedman on Dec. 2, and of Detroit's Bob Lanier, who punched the Celtics' Cedric Maxwell in Dec. 4, amounts to $1,500 fines each; and warning not to do it again; or else stiffer penalties . . .

The Supreme Council for Sport in Africa has begun a week's meeting, and there's trepidation that something could develop at the Yaounde, Cameroon, conference toward the lines of the 1976 Black African boycott of the Montreal Olympics. This time the nut of contention is Britain's participation at Moscow in '80 in face of the British Rubgy Union not Olympic-affiliated, but to militants that's no excuse) having entertained the South African (mixed-race) team -- and considering to return the compliment with a tour of the U.S.A.; that's Union of South Africa . . .

Jerry Claiborne is off and running in collection of recruits for Maryland football 1980 -- without running very far. Five of his first six signees are from capital-area high schools. For instance, All-Met running-back prospect Troy Island, a big scorer for Oxon Hill. And the sixth signee has Maryland blood. He's Bob Gunderman, running back from West Milford, N.J., whose uncle Ed Gunderman, played linebacker-guard for the 1965-66 Terps after uncle Tom Gunderman made all-ACC at guard for U of M '59.

Who can top this? -- while the '79 Terps stay home -- three local brothers are bowl-bound, separately. George Speros is a linebacker on Temple's Garden State Bowl squad; Pete Speros is a center on Penn State's Liberty Bowl roster; Jim Speros is a defensive end on Clemson's Peach Bowl entry. Proud papa is Leo Speros, Normandy Farm restaurateur in Potomac -- and member of Maryland's 1951 Sugar Bowl champions (of Jan. 1, 1952) . . .

In basketball, Emery Harman of the Maryland Fast Breakers, longtime boosters of the men's varsity, reports they keep pace with the times: they've organized the Rebounders, to boost the Terrapin women's squad on an equal basis; special buses to out-of-town games and all . . .

In Lexington, Va., a little scandal: Four Washington & Lee U varsity basketballers -- including the team captain and the leading scorer -- suspended, and subject to expulsion, as part of a group of 13 students who threw each other into the century-old transplanted boxwood trees that are a pride of the campus. Damaged 38 of them in the wee hours following a one-point win over Hampden-Sydney. The W&L squad next plays on a European Christmas tour; meantime, a student panel to decide the fate of the accused.