Baseball did the wrong thing today for all the wrong reasons.

You can't mess up much more than that.

Baseball now has a split season and a three-tier playoff structure that is the worst of all possible worlds.

If the former national pastime had deliberately set out to make itself look ridiculous, it could not have done a better job.

Folks, this is what you got:

Four teams have been declared retroactive champions: The Yankees, A's, Dodgers and Phillies.

These clubs -- four of the most glamorous in baseball -- now have little or no motivation to play well in the season's second half. Even if they win both halves of this split season, all it will gain them is a paltry "home-field advantage" in the playoffs.

As Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver says, "The Yankees are now eliminated from any race until after the regular season."

That's not the worst.

In the last weeks of the season, one or more of these "designated champions" may well be in a position to have a heavy hand in determining its own playoff opponent by losing games to that team.

The point is not that a team would throw games; it almost certainly wouldn't. But how can owners, who supposedly have a responsibility to the health and integrity of their sport, place the game in such a blatantly compromised position?

Wait, you haven't heard the pip.

Take, the case of the Cincinnati Reds, who currently have the second-best winning percentage in baseball -- .625 (35-21) -- but who are half a game behind the now-champion Dodgers. Suppose the Reds play .625 ball again in the second season, but this time it is the Houston Astros who beat them by a half-game for the championship, while the Dodgers play as poorly in the second half as the Astros did in the first half, when they were eight games out.

What would such a perfectly plausible sequence of events produce?

For the season as a whole, the Reds would finish 7 1/2 games ahead of both the Dodgers and Astros.And Cincinnati might well have the best winning percentage in baseball, also.

But the Dodgers and Astros would meet in the new playoffs while the Reds, with the best record in baseball, would be left our entirely.

A similar fate could befall St. Louis, Baltimore, Texas, or the White Sox if they had excellent second seasons, yet finished second to a different champion.

All this could have been avoided so easily it makes a fan want to cry.

What baseball's owners should have done was admit that they have already made this season an irretrievable hash and, out of common decency, at least stop kicking the game they've mismanaged while it's down.

They should have played out the season with no gimmicks, no greedy money-making cons. After all, one look at the standings reveals that no season has had such wonderful pennant races at such a late date in the history of four-division play.

What more do the greedy-gut owners want than a final seven-week pennant-race in which 16 of the 26 clubs are within six games of first place when play resumes Monday?

What they want, of course, is an extra tier of playoffs that they can put up at auction to ABC and NBC. What they want is a phony start-over-fresh second season that will sucker fans of bad teams back into the ballparks.

So, this afternoon at the O'Hare Hilton, the assembled yahoos of baseball's boardrooms got their split season.

Oh, how they got it.

It won't take a week before every knowledgeable baseball fan in America is either infuriated or in hysterics when he realizes what the owners have wrought.

The colossal kicker to this affair is that if the owners were determined to have a split season or an eight-team playoff structure, there were two perfectly reasonable proposals on their table, either of which would have obviated every mare's-nest mentioned earlier in this story.

Just for the record, here are the two simple plans that would have avoided all this mess:

Baltimore suggested that the season be played out as usual with the first- and second-place teams in each division meeting in a playoff. That would get the TV bucks and the extra playoff gate. That would involve a larger number of teams in the playoff hunt. And it would eliminate all possible hints of scandal since no teams would have any reason to give less than its best.

But what about the owners' need for a fresh start so that even miserable teams could sucker their fans back?

Well, the White Sox beat the whole problem. Go ahead and have a second season and a second-half champ. But don't have a first-half champ. Just let the second-half winner playoff against whatever other team in its division has the best overall winning percentage for the whole year.

That plan solved every problem.

New White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn presented it here today. He got the horse laugh. He got put in his place.

"We were told," said Einhorn, "that we were here to vote on a specific chore spelled out in the contract. We were told there were no other options, no flexibility. . . There wasn't even any way we could make a motion."

Baseball fans thought that nothing else as dumb as a strike could happen this year.

Once again, they were wrong.