The last thing Dick Cecil wanted to be was a messiah.

Seventeen months ago, Cecil began assembling and selling the Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic, a five-inning exhibition of 60 former stars that is expected to draw at least 25,000 to RFK Stadium Monday night.

In the process, the former Atlanta Braves' vice president found the right tool for putting pressure on the baseball fathers to return the sport to Washington. He temporarily became a rallying point for the kind of interest that several years ago spurred local businessmen into trying to land another team for the city.

But Cecil is having none of it.

"This is not a litmus test for baseball in Washington," the Cracker Jack Classic's director said last week, carefully disassociating himself from those who would try to turn Monday night's game into a cause celebre. "This is a night of baseball, a chance to swap stories and entertain people with a little nostalgia."

Many months ago, when Cecil announced the game would be played here, he made it clear that he wasn't intending to give baseball another chance here.

"I don't think you can correlate our one night of baseball with the possibility of a major league team making it here. This is a one-time event with a lot of big names. A regular team has to play 81 (home) games.

"I'm not saying it's impossible for a team to survive here. This is a great sports city--I know that. It's just that we're not staging this event as part of an attempt to convince anybody that baseball belongs here," he said.

The drive to return baseball to Washington has not been abandoned, but those contacted this week said it has been difficult to maintain their faith in the face of mounting frustrations.

"I was convinced in 1973 and I've become even more convinced over the years that this city deserves a team," said Robert Schattner, a local dentist who joined forces in the mid-1970s with the late Joseph Danzansky to bring a team to Washington.

He and Danzansky were close to moving the San Diego Padres here and had even put a deposit on the team, before the city of San Diego successfully sued to keep its team.

The consensus among those who have been fighting the battle for baseball is that Monday's game will do little to affect the status quo.

"Frankly, I don't think this game improves Washington's chances of getting a team at all," said former Senator pitcher Dick Bosman, who now coaches O'Connell High's junior varsity team.

"One game of this magnitude and bearing is not going to have any effect on the people who matter when it comes to getting a team here. And the guy who brings his three kids to the game doesn't expect it to help, either. He's coming to see the old-timers play. That's all."

"This game shouldn't be considered irrelevant because it shows there is interest in baseball in this town. But I don't think it will matter or help," Schattner said. "The response this game has gotten shows me there's still a great interest in having a team here, but I knew that anyway.

"This game is one more indication--a very good indication--of how much interest there is in this city for a team, but the baseball establishment just isn't paying attention right now.

"I said it to Bowie Kuhn many years ago, and I'll say it again: when baseball wants a team in Washington, there'll be a team in Washington."

According to Kuhn, that won't be any time soon. The baseball commissioner last week reiterated earlier statements that Washington's best chance for a team would come with National League expansion, and that, he said, is still several years off.

As for the Cracker Jack Classic, Kuhn would only say, "One game cannot be considered a test for baseball there (in Washington) one way or the other."

"Washington has proven to be a city anxious for sports," Schattner said. "There's more than a lot of interest, there's enough. I can see no reason for not having a team here."

Neither does Frank Howard, the Senators' all-time home-run hitter.

"I think a team in Washington would go over great and would definitely last if--and this is a monstrous 'if'--you put a good, contending, entertaining team in here," Howard, now a coach with the New York Mets, said at a luncheon for the game two weeks ago.

"There's no question in my mind about that. The question is where you're going to get a team. And when. When?"