he Cardinals had been keeping a stiff upper beak in the World Series. Now, winners at last, their flakiest flock has gathered in a corner of the clubhouse to bring you cosmic insights about the National League champions. As we move closer, Dave LaPoint is saying of the fellow whose walk drove in the deciding run in Game 2:

"Steve Braun, the Golden Eyeball. If takin' is what he's supposed to do, if he's up there not to hit, which he is, then how come he swings at pitches during batting practice?"

To which Mike Ramsey replies: "Obviously, the man has fooled the right people in management."

A few moments later, LaPoint says to the Cardinals' second-game starter, John Stuper: "What was your reaction to the White Rat bringin' in the rookie left-hander Kaat, rather than Lahti or LaPoint, who were equally capable of giving you your first World Series defeat?"

The complete answer wouldn't pass the censor.

Neither would most of them in this dizzy, daily press conference in which the Cardinals quiz themselves. Often as many as half a dozen participate. Beer bottles serve as microphones, which are spoken into and then drunk from. A few minutes of observation brings a revelation:

Here's the Cardinal Gashouse Gang of the '80s.

Nothing and nobody on the team is sacred. The spoof started several months ago as a sort of Beat the Press. LaPoint, Stuper, Ramsey, Glenn Brummer and a few others decided that some reporters--local and national--could use a lesson in humility.

The Bird brains figured they could ask questions as inane as those coming from those they perceived as birdbrains. And give answers equally appropriate. It's sporting satire stingingly accurate.

To appreciate this, you must understand some basic truths: baseball ain't that complex. It's right there in front of you; the discerning fan sees what happens and pretty much knows why. Which means that questions even by veteran scribes frequently fail to climb higher than:

Ah, what was the pitch you homered on?

Hangin' curve.

That incisive exchange usually is followed by an embarrassing pause. Then, because we're paid to, we probe. Sometimes a Joaquin Andujar, in a snit, swears at you in two languages and walks away. Often, a Lonnie Smith not only suffers fools, if not gladly, but turns gray questions into golden answers. Such as:

"I'm slumping so badly that (controversial walk, followed by Braun's winning walk) was the first time I've seen second base in about a week. . . I'm opening up too quick at the plate, pulling off the ball. I get a pitch I can handle, and foul it off; then I swing at a bad pitch.

"This will be the first time I've faced him (the Brewers' third-game starter, Pete Vuckovich, a former Cardinal). The Phillies were afraid to let me bat against him."

Sometimes, and this may hit you as hard as seeing mommy kissing Santa Claus, sainted scribes get silly.

"One guy asked me after Game 1: 'Do you think Mike Caldwell pitched a good game and had good stuff?' " LaPoint said.

To the point, LaPoint said he guessed so.

The idea behind the John Cosell Baseball Hour, starring John Stuper mocking the man who actually asks more penetrating questions than anyone leading a camera crew, is more than tweaking the press. It keeps the Cardinal clubhouse loose.

"Better than kangaroo courts," said LaPoint, the likely Game 4 starter who was 9-3 this season, "because those can get harmfully negative."

Does this nonsense ever take place after a loss?

"Sometimes," he said, "if Stuper loses."

To this modern Gashouse Gang, Manager Whitey Herzog is the White Rat. The second-oldest man to appear in a Series, 43-year-old Jim Kaat, is "the rookie lefty." Reserve infielder Ramsey is "so thin that if your hair were the color of Herzog's you'd be a Q-tip."

Back to the clowns in a moment. Gotta break away for one serious question of Doug Bair. Having retired six straight Brewers in relief of Kaat in the fifth, half of them on strikeouts, didn't you resent Herzog's hasty hook when the seventh doubled?

In his next life, Bair should be a diplomat.

"I'm the sixth- and seventh-inning man," he said. "Bruce (Sutter) is the eighth- and ninth-inning man. I've got that squared away. Bruce is one of the best. If we'd stayed tied, say, for four or five innings more, and Bruce could go only about three, there wouldn't have been anyone of his caliber to follow. That's why I'd like to have stayed in longer.

"But that's not a second guess."

He doesn't mind being second banana when his own Series show plays so well.

"Very relaxed, very confident," he said. "More so with each success. I was confident I could have gotten the side out that (seventh) inning (after Cecil Cooper doubled with two down). But that's history."

We slip back to Stuper, who faces a bottle barrage and says of reserve catcher Brummer: "Most catchers use gloves marked Wilson or Rawlings. His says Everlast."

And so on.

Big pitch? a serious scribe inquires of Smith about that walk.

"Sure was."

The guys who play the World Series seriously but don't always take it that way would have loved it. They were having a rectangular-table discussion at the other end of the clubhouse. At one point, Brummer, having inhaled the contents, stood up and tossed a bottle into a waste can. Straight-faced, he said:

"Gotta get me another microphone."