Ballard Smith, the president of the San Diego Padres, has had a clubhouse meeting with his bankbook and he's figured out what a strike would mean to him and his players.

"The worst-case scenario is if the strike starts after next Monday's games and it wipes out the rest of the year, including the World Series," he said.

"If that happens, we'd owe somebody $3 million. If we don't strike, if we stay in the pennant race and draw 2.5 million as we expect, we'll end up with $5 million in the bank. I'm not saying 'profit.' Let's leave bookkeeping out of it. Just say it's an $8 million swing.

"Our players would lose $2,949,000 in pay if the whole season's struck."

So, a strike would cost San Diego's players and owners nearly $11 million.

Multiply that by 26 big league teams and you have a guesstimate of the stakes in this week's labor talks: much more than $200 million, plus the future health of the national pastime.

This point from Smith is most telling. "Even if there's a strike, we'll settle it sometime. This winter, next spring. So, if we're going to agree eventually, why not do it now?"

On the players' side, there also are voices of reason. Scott McGregor, player representative of the Baltimore Orioles, says he thinks players already are overpaid and that they should be more concerned about the game's health. "Whether or not we strike depends on how much we want to play the game. Do we still care about the sport or is it just money now? Is that all it is? That could very well be the truth."

Smith's common sense is so clean and obvious, McGregor's magnanimity is so refreshing, that it's both confusing and irritating to realize how close baseball is to a strike that could make the fiasco of 1981 seem tepid.

This week's mantra seems to be, "I'm optimistic." Everybody's saying it, even normally skeptical Edward Bennett Williams, who is on the owners' four-man executive committee.

But nobody can give a single reason why he's optimistic. "The optimism is not a product of fact," said union boss Don Fehr yesterday.

What's most infuriating about baseball's impasse is that it's totally unnecessary. The game never has been so inundated with money. Enough to make everybody involved filthy rich.

The players association's one point of absolute inflexibility is in the open-market system of free agency and arbitration that the union has fought for and won, fair and square.

"I can't describe how unlikely it would be that the players would give that up," Fehr said yesterday.

Where Fehr isn't so adamant is on the vital issue of network TV money. As every little old lady with a season ticket knows by now, that TV pot has quadrupled since the last contract. The players say they always got one-third of it in the past, so fork over the $60 million. The owners say it was just a lump sum of $15 million in '81 and where is this "one-third" stuff written down?

Yesterday, the owners finally offered to increase that lump sum to $25 million, although they did so with a big string attached. They stipulated that if salaries increase by more than $13 million in 1986, then any additional increase would be substracted from the TV money. In theory, this means that the players could get less total TV money for their pension fund. In fact, they even could get none.

As written, such a proposal is a joke because the union can't possibly accept it. But, according to one source close to the negotiations, "There's finally a proposal on the table that both sides agree to in theory. Now it's a matter of putting the right (dollar) figures in the slots."

If the union will move off its written-in-stone 33 percent, then there is a way to talk turkey. The difference between $15 million and $60 million ought to be enough to settle a strike.

The bottom line is that if the open-market mechanism of free agency and arbitration is left in place, then the percentage of network TV money barely matters. Why? Because if the marketplace works, the players will end up with all the available money, anyway.

The owners' problem is that they've used much of that TV money to sign players to long-term contracts. If the union gets the whole $60 million a year, the clubs will, in a sense, have to pay twice.

At the 11th hour -- and this baby will go until 11:59 p.m. Monday -- the owners need to stop crying about their make-believe red ink and abandon all their proposals except the issue of network dollars.

And the union needs to say, "Okay, what will you give us, $50 million? Do we hear $40 million? Speak up."

Both sides should be aware of one new factor.

Four years ago, fans wept and wrung their hands with worry about the game.

Now, our patience and our concern have been worn down to nothing.

One fan protest group ("Strike Back") has vowed that its members will boycott the parks after the strike for as many days as the strike lasts.

The feeling here is that they're far from being alone.

Many of us who have loved baseball all our lives can feel a visceral anger welling up in us. In a perverse sense, we almost want these deceiving owners and this quick-to-anger, hardline union to push us too far so we can teach them a lesson in how expendable they are.

"Go ahead and strike," we think, finally fed up with both sides. "Make our day." if the marketplace works, the players will end up with all the available money, anyway.

The owners' problem is that they've used much of that TV money to sign players to long-term contracts. If the union gets the whole $60 million a year, the clubs will, in a sense, have to pay twice.

At the 11th hour -- and this baby will go until 11:59 p.m. Monday -- the owners need to stop crying about their make-believe red ink and abandon all their proposals except the issue of network dollars.

And the union needs to say, "Okay, what will you give us, $50 million? Do we hear $40 million? Speak up."

Both sides should be aware of one new factor.

Four years ago, fans wept and wrung their hands with worry about the game.

Now, our patience and our concern have been worn down to nothing.

One fan protest group ("Strike Back") has vowed that its members will boycott the parks after the strike for as many days as the strike lasts.

The feeling here is that they're far from being alone.

Many of us who have loved baseball all our lives can feel a visceral anger welling up in us. In a perverse sense, we almost want these deceiving owners and this quick-to-anger, hardline union to push us too far so we can teach them a lesson in how expendable they are.

"Go ahead and strike," we think, finally fed up with both sides. "Make our day."