For five years, Reggie Jackson endured the aggravations that go hand in hand with the pleasure and profit of playing for George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees.

Finally, the emotional wear and tear of being the leading buffoon in a bad soap serial became too much for Jackson; he fled cross country, trading the muggers of the Bronx for the fountain pen bandits of Orange County.

Jackson swore many times that New York was the perfect town for a man of his talents, charisma and smarts. But, in the end, the indignities attendant upon being a Yankee wore him down and he skipped town.

"I wouldn't prostitute myself to come back," Jackson said.

Now, it's Dave Winfield, with his 10-year, $20 million to $25 million contract who is feeling the personal burden of his role as pin stripe protagonist.

Last season, Winfield had to sue Steinbrenner to get the money the owner promised him for the charitable Winfield Foundation.

Now, Steinbrenner, who has been subtly denigrating Winfield all winter, is fond of pointing out the difference between the winning records of Jackson's teams and the second-division history of Winfield-led clubs. Steinbrenner hasn't directly called Winfield a loser, but he's sure come close.

"I don't like it. I don't appreciate it. And it doesn't motivate me," says Winfield of Steinbrenner's pattern of remarks. "I was good before he knew me . . .

"These things hurt me on commercials and endorsements. They see all this--lawsuits and 'loser.' It clouds things. They say, 'Ooooohh, maybe we shouldn't touch this guy.' "

Winfield, like Jackson, plans to fight Steinbrenner at every juncture where he feels his dignity has been affronted. The next combat will probably be Round 2 of the Winfield Foundation war.

"The stuff may hit the fan pretty soon with the foundation . . . stay tuned," said Winfield over the weekend. "Just say that the past has been taken care of, but not necessarily the present or future."

Winfield is still galled over last year's out-of-court settlement. "If I was wrong, you could have been in Taiwan and heard about it. But when George is wrong, the word doesn't go out so loud."

Winfield subscribes to the familiar notion that Steinbrenner needs to prove he can bully and control those he pays. "Seems to be something to that," says Winfield. "There are so many stories like that about George around here.

"Like last week, he had cities down on their knees begging him. Not people, but whole towns," says Winfield, referring to Steinbrenner's threats that he would move the team's spring training site from Fort Lauderdale to Ocala or Tampa if field conditions weren't improved.

"Around here, it's George Steinbrenner first, the name 'Yankees' second and then individuals are third," continues Winfield.

"I'm going to be my own man . . . certain people won't roll up into a corner. While you're playing ball, the owner is the boss. But, for whatever else there is in life, I don't take second place to anybody. Nobody tells me about how to live away from the field . . . I'm not going anywhere. He's not runnin' me off.

"This is the right town for me--with my kind of talent, my kind of looks, my intelligence," says Winfield, sounding just like Jackson.

Despite the institutionalized turmoil that surrounds his team, Winfield, 31, anticipates an even better season than '82, when he had a career-high 37 homers and 106 RBI and was third in the American League in slugging (.560).

"I'm relaxed, in good shape, prime of life, doin' it," he says, beaming. "I can't let this mess distract me, because with this team you carry two loads. You have to perform, but you also have to perform in New York, and, man, that's different. You got to be good all the time. There's never any grace period. It's not even at bat to at bat. It's play to play.

"Like Reggie. I didn't wish it on him (in '81), but you learn by watching. I thought, 'If it'll happen to him, it'll happen to anyone.' "

As though Winfield needed more tension, he has Billy Martin for a manager. The same Martin who, two years ago, said, "Steinbrenner spent too much money on Winfield. Winfield couldn't make my starting outfield . . . Winfield swings the softest bat of anybody 6-foot-8 that I ever heard of."

At the time, Winfield incensed Martin by saying, "Well, Martin ought to know about soft bats. He was a Punch and Judy his whole career."

Mention Martin, and those quotes, to Winfield now and he rocks back as if a hot poker had been jabbed at him. "He's glad to have me and I'm glad to play for him," says Winfield. Next subject.

As further fuel for the Winfield-Steinbrenner feud, the Yankees dropped plans to shorten the left field Death Valley fence to help Winfield hit homers. "It's not comin' in. He (Steinbrenner) was just playing mind games with me, I guess. I've played 10 years in the two worst home run ballparks in the major leagues for a right-handed hitter--San Diego and Yankee Stadium. That's why I have this paucity of 204 home runs.

"If I'd played in Atlanta or Boston, I'd have been a different kind of player. I've had to become a line-drive hitter. Believe me, you can get awful tired of making those right turns (back to the dugout after long fly outs)."

Winfield is sitting by his locker. Suddenly, the radio announces that new Yankee Steve Kemp has hit a game-winning home run. Winfield jumps up like a little boy, all his adult problems with owners and managers and mean cities forgotten.

"Oh, let me see this," he squeals, running down the tunnel into the dugout in his street clothes to shake Kemp's hand.

It doesn't seem like the act of a loser.