This was supposed to be the day when his eminence Reginald Martinez Jackson reported to the New York Yankee spring training camp to deliver his annual state of the Reggie message.

What would underpaid Reggie, the $3-million free agent, say to Dave Winfield, the $25-million free agent who now outstrips him in pin stripe salary by nearly 300 percent per annum?

What would outraged Reggie say to Gene Michael, the utility man turned organization yes man who has taken over as Yankee manager after Jackson's pal Dick Howser was fired last winter by owner George Steinbrenner?

Above all, what would the savvy Candy Bar Man say to boss Steinbrenner concerning the massive new contract -- rivaling or exceeding Winfield's yearly $1.5-million salary -- that Jackson is determined to sign by opening day?

Not one to disappoint the soap opera addicts who follow All My Yankees, Jackson (who had already been granted a special two-day dispensation to report late to camp) surpassed himself today.

He never showed up.

Steinbrenner, announced that Jackson will not be paid until he reports. That amounts to a $2,500-a-day fine.

"Reggie has been a personal disappointment to me. I'm surprised and very hurt," said Steinbrenner. "His excuses just don't wash. He's had all winter to get his affairs straight. Everybody was here two days ago. Where's Reggie?

"Right now, the last guy I want to sit down with to negotiate a big contract is Reggie Jackson. Instead of being late, you'd think he's be here early after the way he played in the playoffs last season. Mr. October wasn't Mr. October in '80. He didn't drive in one run against Kansas City.

"Reggie says he wants a lifetime relationship with the Yankees and with my business," said Steinbrenner. "Well, he's not ready to go into business or anything else until he gets his priorities straight.

"No corporation in its right mind is going to look on him as a corporate candidate unless he shows he can conducthimself more reliably than this."

To the person of vast vanity, and equally insatiable insecurity, one phrase is indispensable: "Okay, have it your way."

That's what make Jackson and Steinbrenner so much fun. They are both gifted, rich glib, charming and incredibly spoiled. They both expect, and usually get, things their way.

Now, with potentially the biggest annual salary in baseball history as a wishbone being tugged between them, both can be expected in the next six weeks to turn themselves inside out in paroxysms of contract strategy, blarney and gamesmanship.

Steinbrenner laid down the first trump here last Monday in a two-hour meeting with Jackson when he whetted the slugger's curiosity by suggesting that, instead of mere tacky money, he might induce Jackson to sign by granting him a dignified status in the corporate world that no other wage-slave player had ever attained. Somewhere down the line, he'd give Jackson a corporate title.

Jackson, in his delight, spilled the beans, telling the world about how, before long, he'd be vice president Jackson, capitalist extraordinaire.

Steinbrenner, as though stuck with a cattle prod, responded the next day: "Somebody misunderstood something. Reggie has not been offered any position with my corporation."

In other words, Jackson can spend the rest of his life hanging around the Yankee locker room, like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Catfish Hunter, who are all here hitting fungos. That's called "having a lifetime relationship with the Yankees." But don't start thinking you're going to be a member of the board.

So, this morning, Jackson retaliated. Jerk my chain, I'll jerk yours harder.

Just 30 minutes before the 10 a.m. deadline Steinbrenner had set as the absolute last minute that Jackson could show up without being AWOL, the slugger made a casual phone call to Manager Michael's office.

"Reggie said he had some personal problems and some business commitments that would take him a couple of more days," said Michael. "I didn't ask him what they were and he didn't say."

When did Michael suspect that Jackson might be the only one of 50 Yankees who would encounter such pressing difficulties.

"Yesterday," said Michael.

What tipped him off?

"Reggie called and left a telephone number where I should call him," said Michael. "I asked the operator where that number was and she said, 'Carmel.'"

That's the Carmel in California, not the carmel in a Reggie bar.

To ensure he be "treated like an adult," Jackson periodically acts like a child.

In Steinbrenner, he has met an infant worthy of his mettle.

"All the progress we've made in negotiating is out the window," mourned Steinbrenner. "We're back to Square 1 now."

By an elegant irony, this was also the day the Yanks announced their new president is Lou Saban.

"Lou is my kind of man," said Steinbrenner of Saban who has been fired from or quit at least 11 jobs, five in the last five years. "When he was fired at Northwestern (as football coach) in '55, Lou could have leveled some blasts at people. He didn't. I was his assistant coach then and he told me something I've always remembered. "The fish that keeps its mouth shut never gets caught.'"

That '55 team was 0-8-1. "But George was a helluva coach," said Saban. "The eight losses were mine. George says the tie was his."

With Saban and Michael, Steinbrenner has some very tight-lipped fish. The Yankee owner does not want any more underlings like Howser who repeatedly told him where to head in.

Last season, Steinbrenner asked Howser to warn Jackson that he was "cabareting" too much. Howser told Steinbrenner, "Tell him yourself."

During the '80 World Series, as Steinbrenner publically debated whether he should fire Howser, the manager refused to squirm. "Anybody can manage the Yankees, but nobody can work for George," said Howser at the time. "He takes the credit when we win, but fires or blames somebody else when we lose."

Steinbrenner can buy victories, hire sycophants, stockpile players and then let them rust away their best years, muzzle and break Billy Martin, fire Howser. But he hasn't found the solution to Reggie Jackson.

Now, baseball's two precocious children will wage their private war of manipulative wills. The sporting world may hold its breath. Many Yankees won't.

"Isn't Reggie here today?" said Graig Nettles. "I hadn't noticed."