From day to day, not much makes complete sense. Take it year to year and the picture looks clearer. Step back far enough, and occasionally everything can look so obvious that it's embarrassing to admit how confused we were along the way.

At least that's how it seemed in baseball last week.

These winter meetings, in their quiet way, seem to mark the end of a long era of financial turbulence.

The 10-year tidal wave of free agency has crested, crashed and, now, seems ready to recede, leaving the game with little, if any, lasting damage.

For a decade, baseball has tormented itself with trying to understand every twist and turn of its economic dynamics. Now, it looks so elementary a child could have grasped it.

Would free agency destroy the game? How many franchises would fold? Would owners wreck their personal fortunes? Would the auction mentality endure indefinitely with salaries skyrocketing until long-term debt bankrupted the future of the entire sport?

Now, those seem like silly hysterical questions. Free agency has made the game more than damaged it, creating more fans, competition, star appeal and controversy.

Not one club folded. Even those owners who lost some money and had to sell still made big profits. How? Because their clubs were worth so much more in 1985 than they were in 1976. Any boss could cash his chips any time he wanted and call the deal a bonanza.

Now, it seems clear that the game's salary spiral has calmed down acceptably. Last year's salary jump -- 12.7 percent -- was the lowest since the advent of free agency.

At this moment, owners are standing united for the first time in refusing to get into winter bidding wars.

Good for them.

Is it collusion or common sense?

Oh, who really cares?

"I've heard some talk about conspiracy," Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said last week. "I just can't take that seriously. If there's any conspiracy, it's between a few agents and a few other people to get owners to continue to spend stupidly and crazily . . . I'm certain that the owners in baseball, and this is the way it should be, can't agree on anything, so conspiracy is probably something that couldn't happen if it wanted to."

"When the owners were forced to open their books this year," says Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, "they felt a deep embarrassment. I saw losses I couldn't believe. There was a lot of shock therapy. We realized it was time to put the house in order."

Even agents see the trend and accept it. "You knew the salary climb had to stop sometime. It's simple economics," says Alan Hendricks, who has negotiated million-a-year deals for players such as Andre Thornton and Joaquin Andujar. "It couldn't go up forever.

"Now, salaries have become a zero sum game. For 10 years, everybody could get richer. These days, what one player gets, another player doesn't get. You're going to see a middle-class squeeze.

"The stars will always get theirs and the young prospects, too. But the 30-year-old player with a couple of good years -- but a who-knows future -- better take that $1-million-for-three-years contract in a hurry. Or he may get shut out with no contract from anybody.

"As an agent, you better protect that guy . . . wise him up that things have changed. You can use incentive clauses to make up that half-million you think you might be leaving on the table."

In his state of the game remarks, Ueberroth said the sport was "turning the corner" on its money problems. A year ago, seven teams were for sale; now, only one. "Common sense has taken over," says Ueberroth because owners finally realize that "the pot is dry . . . There just isn't as much of the orange left to squeeze . . . Are player salaries going to go up? Yes. But they won't go up at such a dramatic and alarming rate."

In 1976, the average player earned $51,501. In retrospect, the owners of that era were getting away with robber baron tactics. Considering how many years it takes a player to reach the majors, how short the average career is, and how ill-suited a former ballplayer is for any comparable job, it seems fair to invoke the word "exploited."

In 1976, the year free agentry arrived, John (Blue Moon) Odom retired from baseball after pitching in three World Series for Oakland. He never got his cut of the pie. This week, less than 100 miles from these meetings, Odom -- despondent over being unemployed and broke -- held his wife hostage for seven hours at gunpoint until he was tear-gassed from his own small home by police.

Will the Odom of 1985, whoever he is, end up in a similarly sad fix? Or will today's average salary of $371,157 cushion his exit from the game? What's wrong with giving players a better chance.

With hindsight, it's annoying to realize how much worry was wasted on baseball's great money crisis. Maybe there's more to homeopathy than we choose to admit. Is it possible that most of our problems fall into three categories: the imaginary, the insoluble and those that solve themselves?

The next time baseball greets us with panic pronouncements of imminent doom over some new hobgoblin of the moment (such as mandatory drug testing) maybe we should consider a novel alternative reponse.

A nice relaxing yawn.