If it were possible for a major league team to have altered transcripts, then the Montreal Expos would. They are baseball's most appealing renegades.

Opinions vary as to how the firstplace Expos should be categorized.

A season ago, southpaw Ross Grimsley showed his prescience by calling his team "a collection of flakes and wackos . . . we're baseball's secret. Word of the Expos stops at the U.S. border."

That is changing. Last month, the Expos' Ron LeFlore said the team was made up of "rednecks and militants . . . They don't have to love or even like each other, which is good, because they don't."

Asked to name the rednecks, LeFlore, in his first Montreal season, quipped, "Go down the roster. Take your pick." He has since recanted. Perhaps only an Expo would claim he was misquoted by a tape recorder.

LeFlore's teammates responded by laying the wood to him as though he were a human hanging curve ball. "He called us all racists," said pitcher Steve Rogers. "The nucleus of this team has been together for four years. If suddenly there is any racial tension, consider the source."

"The problem isn't racism. Montreal is probably the most unracist city in North America," said Larry Parrish, who looks like Grizzly Adams and is stronger than his bear. "The problem is different rules for different players. Some guys aren't showing up until 7 o'clock for a 7:30 game and don't even take infield. That breeds dissension."

Guess who was benched for a game because he arrived at Olympic Stadium 15 minutes before "Oh, Canada"? LeFlore.

LeFlore, it should be made clear, is only the latest lightning rod for all the simmering electricity that always buzzes through the Expos. On what other team, for instance, does the star pitcher (Rogers) say of the manager (Dick Williams), "Any communication or respect ended between us long ago"?

On this club, the blacks and whites snipe at each other, except when they are griping about each other. "The rules have been obliterated on this team," says Andre (Hawk) Dawson. "LeFlore, Ellis (Valentine) and Rodney (Scott) are into their own thing. I don't take it personally. I treat it in a joking manner."

Of course, others don't. "We want to win, but we don't work hard enough at it," says veteran Stan Bahnsen. "If George Brett can take extra batting practice, why can't our guys take regular batting practice?"

To all of this, plus a general laissez faire attitude toward returns from minor injuries, the Expos' top brass gives an eloquent shrug and maintains an attitude of total resignation and abdication of traditional responsibilities.

"I don't see how anyone can say we have a double standard on rules," says Williams. "I haven't fined anybody all year."

In other words, there are no rules.

"You know, in baseball today, the tail wags the dog and there's not much you can do about it," said Williams, who was the king of all hard-nosed disciplinarians when he managed the Boston Red Sox to the Series in '67.

"We don't have that family stuff on this club," says dignified, articulate John McHale, club president and general manager. "Dick (Williams) is different than some managers. He says, 'Just give me nine innings.' That's all that concerns him. He did it that way in Oakland and he won with it. Maybe that's the way you have to go about it now.

"But, you know, baseball has always been a funny game in that respect," said McHale. "The first week I was in the majors, the Detroit (Tiger) trainer told me, 'Son, this is the only game where fat men and drunks can excel. Talent is all that matters. You've either got it, or you don't.'"

If McHale had any remaining doubts about the feasibility of using old-fasioned approaches in this era of million-dollar-a-year stars and $200,000-a-year bums, he learned it a fortnight ago when he called a team meeting and gave the club a Gipper-style pep talk about how the players have to stop being intimidated by the Pittsburgh Pirates and pin the Buccos' ears in the pressure games.

All it got him was a round of horse laughs. Southpaw Bill Lee led the public hooting in the press. "I think all that Knute Rockne stuff has gotten lost in the generation gap," said McHale with remarkable generosity. "I should have known that a Notre Dame man (McHale) couldn't give a locker room talk to a USC man (Lee)."

The Expos are the apotheosis of baseball's brave new world. They are too rich to be fined or disciplined. They are too disparate, independent and free-spirited to be a harmonious unit. They are too honest (and/or vain) to keep their dirty laundry hidden. And they are too talented not to be a contender.

The only "chemistry" on the Expos is to mix dynamite, nitro and TNT on the same team, then hope it blows up on the field in the other team's face, and not in the clubhouse in your own.

"I know how Dick Williams operates," says the Pirates' Phil Garner, an Oaklander under Williams. "He assumes everybody is an adult and treats them that way, even if maybe they aren't. Everybody's emotions and opinions are out in the open. If you don't like what somebody has to say, you've got an option. Punch him."

The basic assumption behind the current Expo approach is elementary: Win Now. Every Montreal personnel decision operates on that guideline. The ultimate proof came just a couple of weeks ago.

When Willie Montanez, one of baseball's most hot-tempered and talented hot dogs, came on the trading block in San Diego, the Expos were at the head of the line to deal for him. When it comes to macho clubhouse pecking-order tests of manhood, Montanez is a slap-fighting terror.

At first base, the man refuses to stretch for a throw. Montanez has played for seven teams in 12 seasons and every one has finished in the second division. Of all the players in baseball, Montanez may have the No. 1 bad rep among stodgy front-office types.

What we have here is the baseball equivalent of the law-unto-himself wild-West gunfighter who gets hired as a desperate last recourse. First, you tell him, "Kill that guy for me." Then, you figure out what to do with him .

When Montanez, who is in the last year of a multiyear million-dollar contract, learned that he was headed for the Expos his reaction was in character: "I don't like it, but what can I do?"

"Because Willie is in the last year of his contract, we felt it would insure his best effort," said McHale.So much for the old college try.

The Expos' mind-set has moved totally into this baseball age of economic quid pro quo . Neither labor nor management has any illusions. Montreal traded for LeFlore, knowing that he would become a free agent this November. tTeam officials gave up a promising young pitcher on the gamble that LeFlore would get them to the Series in '80, even if he flew the coop for '81.

Now, LeFlore says his price as a free agent will be $3-4 million for five years. The Expos have extracted a public apology from LeFlore for his remarks in the September Inside Sports . The club won't even back LeFlore in his contention that his words were taken out of context and misconstrued.

"All I can say," says McHale, "is what a terrible performance by a guy who has 25 other teams looking at him to decide if they want him . . . I don't know whether we'll want to meet his price or not. If we're in the Series, maybe we'll be that interested in having him back. If we aren't, we can finish second without him."

Baseball is finding, to its shock, that the public cannot get enough of teams -- like the Fightin' A's, the Feudin' Yankees and now the Expos -- that flaunt their candor, and use it, indirectly, as a reverse-PR technique for selling tickets.

For instance, it doesn't take the CIA to find out the Expos' weakness. Just ask anybody. They'll lay down a salvo. Heck, just ask the club president.

"We need another arm in the bullpen," says McHale, despite the conventional wisdom that you never admit your weaknesses in mid-race. "We tried for five weeks to get Sparky Lyle (from Texas). He wanted a guaranteed two-year contract, plus $500,000 in deferred postcareer payments over 10 years."

It is delightful paradox that the more the Expos squabble, the more their Canadian fans love them. And the more delight the team itself takes in its victories. The universal cry among Expos, for instance, is, "We don't have a leader." Most teams would consider this a secret. Not the Expos.

"Our leader last year was Tony Perez," says Parrish. "So, we let him get away (in the free agent draft). No one has replaced him."

Seldom has a team had so many every-day players who look like they could lead a contingent of pussycats against a pack of wolves. Six of the every-day Expos would make anybody's all-physique team. LeFlore, Dawson, Valentine, Carter, Parrish and Warren Cromartie look like NFL halfbacks or quickside linebackers. Johnny Bench would look like a small fry next to any one of them.

Yet none of them has taken the last step to superstar leadership. LeFlore, who has 91 steals (but may be idle until the playoffs with a wrist fracture) has only a .255 average and is a liability in his first left-field season.

Carter is baseball's best slugging catcher with 24 homers and 82 RBI, but every time he is asked to bat fourth, he seems to slump. Cromartie is hitting .300, but is more comfortable batting sixth than third.

Dawson, another .300 hitter with 33 steals and fine instincts in center field, holds down the No. 3 spot, but has only 76 RBI, despite a multitude of Expos in scoring position before him. He can hit for average, or power, but not both. The massive Parrish hit 30 homers last year and looked like the run-producing answer. But he's been this year's semi-fizzle: .257, 13 homers, 58 RBI.

"Despite all our muscle, we still score with our legs more than our bats," says the mystified McHale, whose club has 216 steals. "We keep waiting for these kids . . . well, they're not kids anymore . . . to turn the corner from very good to great. But with the big run on base, they're still overanxious, always fouling off the pitch they're waiting for.

"Today," said McHale, after a shutout loss to the Pirates last weekend, "Carter and Parrish both came up with men in scoring position and struck out on fast balls down the middle. They were just wound too tight, trying too hard.

"That knack in the clutch hasn't quite come yet. But we could find it any time . . . maybe even this week. It's that close."

Ironically, the Expos are being led in the stretch by four quiet, almost invisible starting pitchers -- all between 21 and 24: Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, Charlie Lea and David Palmer.

"They're the best young staff I have ever seen," says old Woody Fryman. The appearance of these new hurling children is doubly odd, because classy, stylish Montreal has just, in the past two years, learned how to go crazy over its budding, every-day stars. "This town is so label conscious that for years we met resistance whenever we got rid of an older, well-known player like Ron Fairly, Willie Davis, Tim McCarver Rusty Staub or Tony Perez," says McHale. "Montrealers are just learning the fine points of the game and they would rather have a famous old player at 70 percent of his ability than suffer through watching a young player develop."

Montreal's baseball fans probably won't have to suffer much for the next few years. Their Expos are not wackos and flakes. Nor are they rednecks and militants. Nor are they fat men and drunks. Perhaps a specimen or two of each of these types might be found. But above all, the Expos are a sleek, young and talented collection of gifted but seldom harmonious parts.

A family they aren't. Nor do they need to be.