Strike Three is a lot like Strike One in at least one respect: the owners' contribution to the players' pension fund is a central issue.

The first strike in major league history began April Fool's Day 1972 and lasted 13 days, with the owners' contribution to the pension fund the major issue. In 1981, players struck for 50 days in a dispute with ownership over compensation for the loss of players through free agency. Yesterday, they struck again. This time, the major issues are the salary arbitration system and, once again, the pension fund. (Players also struck briefly during spring training in 1980 but missed no games.)

It's easy to see why the pension fund is such an issue. Players, managers, coaches and trainers all are eligible for pensions after just one day of major league service. The pensions, which are funded by the teams, vary with years of service, the period in which one was active and the age at which one begins to receive payment. Current personnel and all those who were active during or after the 1970 season are in Class 8, the highest-paying grouping.

A man in that classification who begins drawing payments at age 55 with 10 years experience would get $2,043 a month for the rest of his life. A trainer with one year in the big leagues could draw $105 a month beginning at age 45. Anyone who begins getting a check at 65 with 20 years experience would draw $4,824 a month.

Under the agreement that expired March 31, 1972, the owners contributed $5 million a year. The owners offered a cost-of-living increase to $5.4 million, but the players demanded a $1.2 million increase, to over $6 million. In the end, the players got a $500,000 increase.

In 1976, along with the landmark free agency decision -- which rejected the reserve clause that had bound players to teams and kept salaries down -- players gained an increase in the owners' contribution to the pension fund to $8.3 million. In 1980, the contribution, which has been traditionally, although not contractually, approximately one third of the national television package money, was increased to $15.5 million a year.

Now, with a television deal worth $1.1 billion over six years in effect since 1984, the players union had demanded a $60 million annual contribution to the pension fund from the owners.

In the final days of negotiations before the strike, both sides offered compromises on the pension issue. The players union offered to accept less than one-third of the television money, but on the condition that there be no changes in the salary arbitration system. That was a condition the owners would not accept. The compromise offered by the owners was linked to changing the salary arbitration system. Thus, salary arbitration now is the dominant issue.