The doctor who shall be nameless said, "Ray told me he's quitting." The doctor said, "And that's good." Along with other learned gentlemen, he had attended a seminar on detached retinas and come away with his conviction reaffirmed that no one should be allowed to fight after surgery to fix the retina. "Ray's too smart to fight again," the gentleman said.

Well, now. Gentlemen may not question other gentlemen's convictions, but only sainted mothers think of newspapermen as gentlemen. So when the distinguished doctor said it was good that Ray Leonard would never fight again, a fellow with tomato soup on his tie said, "But Ray's own doctor says the retina will be as good as ever, that he faces no more risk now than he did when he started fighting."

"That doctor's on an ego trip," said this disciple of Hippocrates.

"One of the best eye surgeons in the world needs an ego trip?" said the tomato soup tie.

"The seminar was conclusive on the point. It's stupid to say a retina reattached is 'better than it was before.' It can't be put together better than The Man Upstairs made it in the first place. That's why Ray won't fight again. That's what he told me."

Working stiffs don't often run into Ray Leonard at the drive-through lane of McDonald's. But the doctor twice said he had talked to Leonard about the eye thing, and so a newspaperman asked him when he last talked to the fighter.

"I didn't really," the doctor said.

Oh.

"But that's what one of Ray's buddies told me," the doctor said.

Uh-huh.

Except for speculation that Ed Garvey and Jack Donlan wouldn't know a football if one fell in their tomato soup, this autumn's favorite topic for debate is Ray Leonard's future. Will he or won't he? Should he or shouldn't he? One day Boxing Illustrated magazine says he won't, the next day a New York newspaper says he will. Three months ago The Washington Post suggests he won't, this month we suggest he will.

All with good reason.

Leonard gives everyone good reason to believe whatever they want to believe. As the subject of interviews, he quickly figures out what the interviewer wants to hear; then Leonard tells the interviewer that.

Look at what went on in San Remo, Italy, early Sunday morning. Leonard worked as a television commentator for the latest Marvin Hagler knockout. At ringside afterward, Leonard in his tuxedo interviewed Hagler in his boxing trunks. Hagler, in a kindly voice, said to Leonard, "You don't want to quit until you come into Marvin's corner."

They laughed about the money they could make. Leonard had posed with Hagler earlier this month, waving a fistful of money. They're talking $20 million for Leonard from a fight with Hagler. And when Hagler invited Leonard to fight him, Sugar Ray looked straight into the TV camera with those twinkling eyes and said five words very quickly.

"Mike Trainer, sign me up," he said.

This didn't sound like a fellow about to retire.

So a newspaperman yesterday called Mike Trainer, who is Leonard's lawyer, and asked if Trainer heard his client's message Saturday night.

"I laughed and laughed," the lawyer said.

Then an Associated Press story out of San Remo the next day quoted Leonard as saying he never would fight Hagler. Leonard, the 147-pound welterweight champion, was quoted as saying he is too little and not strong enough for Hagler, the 160-pound middleweight champion.

Trainer laughed about that one, too. "I don't know what that was. Just a story. I give it no credence . . . It's kinda fun and neat that so many people care so much. But I wish people would stop it. He's going to announce it next week, anyway."

When Leonard makes his announcement, whatever it might be, Marvin Hagler and his people will be in Baltimore's Civic Center listening.

Learned doctors may believe Leonard will quit. Tommy Hearns' manager, Emanuel Steward, thinks Leonard will announce his retirement only to come back six months later saying that he will fight Hagler after all. But at least one fellow with tomato soup on his tie believes Ray Leonard will say he intends to fight early next year.

These are the clues: Leonard is only 26. Maybe the best eye surgeon there is tells him he faces no more danger than the danger he has accepted for 10 years now. Leonard loves the adrenaline rush of competition. He would love to count to 20 million in one-dollar bills. And the more he says he doesn't need these things anymore, the more he sounds like a man trying to sell himself a bill of goods.