Is it a law of behavior that the richer you become, the greedier and more inflexible you get? Without knowing it? Or even meaning to be that way?

Baseball, the game with the Midas touch for money but no wise Solomon in sight to divide its spoils, is entering the late innings of its most complex, infuriating and important labor battle.

Between now and mid-August, we'll find out whether an industry that's awash in record amounts of cash can avoid another season-ruining strike.

If the latest rumblings from both labor and management are any sign, don't bother buying many advance tickets.

Once more, let's agonize over the baseball proletariat that must slave its life away for a mere $375,000 a man.

While we're at it, let's worry about whether baseball owners are losing a few million dollars, money they'll never miss because the worth of a club is skyrocketing so fast they can turn a windfall profit any time they decide to sell their teams. Let's get gray hair over rich men and their toys of choice.

Okay, that's out of our systems.

Feel a little better?

When last seen, the owners were tickled pink with themselves for the first time in years. They got the Big Eight accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney to say that the game lost $42 million last year, would lose $55 million this season and by 1988 would be burning cash at the rate of $155 million a year.

"See, see, see," the bosses said.

"Voodoo economics," countered the union which, ledgers under arms, sought out economics lizards of its own to explain what the small print meant.

Now, the union's "timeout" is just about over. They've taken the owners best poor-mouth punch and are preparing their counter offensive.

"The union said it'd complete its analysis by July 1. We're just treading water 'til they give us their reaction," says the owners' negotiator, Lee MacPhail, a man who's mastered disarming geniality as a tool of power.

"If they continue to talk about 'voodoo economics,' then we have a real problem. If they come back with a realistic evaluation, then I would hope we could work something out."

MacPhail had better not hold his breath. Union boss Don Fehr tipped his hand yesterday when he said, "What our report will show, I think, is that baseball has about the same bell curve as any other business. Some teams are making money, some are losing money and most are in the middle.

"A lot of the claimed 'losses' exist only on paper . . . The picture we get from these books is a lot different from the way it's been presented to the public -- as an imminent financial catastrophe for baseball. It's nothing close to that."

It's hard to say which side looks worse at the moment. The owners have put forward an insulting proposal that would roll back 17 years worth of union gains; their NBA-style "salary-cap" notion even seems to embarrass MacPhail, who says, "We're not wedded to that plan."

The owners also insult the union's and the public's intelligence when they try to make anybody believe their $42 million figure for 1984 losses. Fehr will have a field day slashing that figure to bits.

On the other hand, the union still seems infatuated with its tough-guy image. Fehr, like Marvin Miller, can't resist proving how smart he is, how he can slice up the owners' logic.

MacPhail assumes Aug. 15 is the strike date the players have in mind, although any time after Aug. 1 would be logical. "The idea would be to go out soon enough so you could get back in (before the postseason)."

Baseball's real problem is that, because of the stalling and disorganization on management's side and the posturing and intransigence from the union, nobody's done the first spadeful of work on a real solution.

The two sides have argued for a year with no movement about the game's big ticket item -- how much of the national TV package cash goes to the players pension fund. Is it a third, which would be $55 million? Or is it the same $15 million as last time? Funny how they never pinned that down last time around.

Also, there's been no progress on changes in arbitration procedures, which the owners want badly. Ironically, in the long view, both MacPhail and Fehr know where the game is headed, and probably should be headed -- toward more NFL-like revenue sharing.

The real engine that's propelled baseball's salary rocket is the imbalance in wealth among teams. On the day when the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Braves are only twice as rich as the Mariners, Indians, Giants and Pirates -- rather than four or five times as rich -- then baseball's salary graph will start to level off of its own accord.

At present, rich clubs spend with impunity indefinitely. If the rich weren't so rich, they'd be restrained by the market place. A dollar badly spent in the past would prevent a future free-agent adventure.

"Everything in baseball is in that direction," MacPhail says. "Revenue sharing calmed things (ie., salaries) down in pro football. But, politically, it's not easy to do. Owners in big cities say, 'I paid several times as much for my club. My expenses are higher. Why should I share revenue?' "

In an ideal world, baseball would have a simple solution.

First, leave the current free-agent and arbitration structure as is. That's all the players ask. They won it fair and square. It's contributed enormously to the game's popularity. And the owners haven't proved their poverty yet.

Second, take a huge step toward revenue sharing immediately.


Split the gate.

Half of every ticket sold should go to the home team, half to the visitor.

What could be fairer?

Many people assume that's the way it's done anyway. Actually, only about 10 percent goes to the visitor.

Why? It's baseball tradition.

Five minutes with a note pad and calculator will tell anyone the practical impact of this move. The game's wealth will be shared. The best teams, the most popular teams and the clubs in the biggest cities still would have a built-in advantage. But the differential won't be nearly so huge.

Then, let the marketplace work.

If salaries still keep going crazy, then change "the system" next time.

Baseball's owners probably will never vote for such a change.

But a commissioner might be able to order it and make it stick.

The hour may soon come when this, or some other equally drastic unilateral act, will be Peter Ueberroth's decision of the day.