The Major League Baseball Players Association yesterday sharply criticized the Los Angeles Dodgers' $54,000 fine of relief pitcher Steve Howe for undergoing a second treatment for dependency on cocaine.

Executive Director Ken Moffett complained at a press conference in New York that Commissioner Bowie Kuhn "misled me concerning his plans and that a decision had already been made to sacrifice Steve as an example to other players.

"During the past week, I met with Commissioner Kuhn and spoke with him several times. He assured me that there would not be disciplinary action taken in this case and that he was interested in working with the players association to develop a joint program to deal with chemical dependency problems."

Moffett said that after meeting with Kuhn he understood that Howe might "get some sort of probation, but nothing of the magnitude of a $54,000 fine." He said that "more than likely" a grievance will be filed.

Moffett said he was "shocked and saddened" by the fine, adding, "I now believe he and the Dodgers management were motivated by personal and political considerations other than what is best for the game of baseball and the men who play it."

Asked his reaction, California Angels Executive Vice President Buzzie Bavasi said he felt the situation was handled properly. "Number one, it wasn't a fine. He didn't get paid for not playing for 30 days. This is a rich man's disease. If he told the police that he had bought cocaine, he'd be in jail. I think Howe knows baseball is right."

Howe, who pitched one inning in Wednesday night's game against San Diego, entered the CareUnit Hospital on May 29 and left June 24. The fine approximately equals his salary for one month.

"To my knowledge this is the heaviest fine ever against a major league player," Moffett said. "You have some lives at stake here . . . I feel this could put a chill on players coming forward if any other problems crop up."