By the end of baseball's 1984 winter meetings, almost everyone in the game knew Doug Melvin.

He was the 32-year-old whiz kid working for George Steinbrenner, the guy with the Apple IIe and the computerized statistics and scouting reports. He was the guy who had ranked each organization's best prospects, and Yankees insiders give Melvin more than a little credit for what happened that week.

While the Rickey Henderson trade was getting most of the headlines, a deal that has become almost as important to the Yankees brought them reliever Brian Fisher for catcher Rick Cerone.

A year afterward, the Atlanta Braves are still trying to unload Cerone, and the Yankees think their Fisher-Dave Righetti bullpen is the best in either league (43 saves, 16 victories) and a reason this is the team many people expect to win the American League East.

To the people who met him that week, Melvin was young, ambitious and bright, and he was dragging baseball into its Atari age. After computerizing much of the Yankees' baseball information, he began organizing a video library, and this year when the club had its organizational meetings in Tampa, Fla., coaches could not only hear about, but see the youngsters they had been working with in spring training.

Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams hired Melvin, now 33, this week to serve as an executive assistant to himself and General Manager Hank Peters. If the hire is awkward initially -- it was Williams', not Peters', move -- people who know Melvin say it will work out.

"Once Hank gets to know Doug, he'll love the guy," a Yankees source said. "Doug will be his right-hand man."

He might be more than that. Peters turns 62 this year and is under contract for four more seasons. Meanwhile, Williams has consistently expressed unhappiness with the Orioles' farm system.

Melvin's job description might be hidden in there somewhere. He could be Peters' successor (if Peters retires in 1989), or he could find himself running the farm system. Or, he could also remain what he is now: A young baseball voice to give another opinion on player moves and player development.

"Right now, I'm studying the organization and the minor leagues," Melvin said. "I'm trying to get familiar with the major league roster, and I'll be going to Florida basically to do whatever I'm asked to do. If they need another opinion on something, I'll give it."

He does not lack confidence. A pitcher in the Pittsburgh and Yankees organizations, he retired as a player in 1979 after he went to Yankees farm man Jack Butterfield and asked: "Am I a prospect?"

Butterfield told him no, and a few days later, Melvin married and returned to his native Canada.

Three months later, the Yankees asked him to join their organization, which he did, as a batting-practice pitcher and press-box observer. When he noticed the rest of baseball becoming computerized, he became involved in computerizing the Yankees, and his career ascended from there.

California Angels Manager Gene Mauch broke down and cried this week during a news conference announcing pitcher Geoff Zahn's retirement. "You put the radar gun on Geoff Zahn's fastball, and it doesn't register," Mauch said. "Put the gun on his heart, and it will blow the lid off." He and Zahn, 39, have been together since 1977 . . .

Cleveland reliever Ernie Camacho, who pitched only three innings because of elbow problems last season, is hurt again. He said he slipped on a patch of ice while carrying his laundry . . . Best deal of the winter: The Montreal Expos sold reliever Luis Sanchez to the Yomiuri Giants for $1 million. They got him in a trade for Gary Lucas, whom they were ready to release . . .

Boston designated hitter Mike Easler became an ordained Baptist minister this winter and has a church in San Antonio . . . The Players Association is filing a grievance against Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. All she did was have General Manager Bill Bergesch walk over to catcher Dave Van Gorder just before Van Gorder's arbitration hearing and say: "If you go through with this, we'll either trade or release you." Van Gorder went through with it -- and won . . .

Texas Manager Bobby Valentine said his Opening Day outfield probably will be Ruben Sierra, Oddibe McDowell and Pete Incaviglia. Total major league tenure: One year (all by McDowell) . . . The Rangers have already gotten rid of nine players who were on their Opening Day roster last season, and that number might be 14 by the end of spring training . . .

Pitcher Ken Forsch, 39, says his arm and shoulder problems are behind him, and that his fastball is 89 mph strong. Forsch might end up touring spring training camps looking for a tryout . . . A lesson in motivation, part one: Chicago Cubs General Manager Dallas Green has had newspaper clippings of his team's 1984 playoff loss to the San Diego Padres hung in the clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Beside them, he has hung clippings of the Bears' Super Bowl victory . . .

Pitcher Steve Howe, who has been released by two teams because of cocaine addiction, is working as a radio disc jockey in White Fish, Mont., and said he'll accept a minimum salary for the chance to pitch again. The Cubs and Blue Jays appear interested . . . The Braves are close to sending catcher Bruce Benedict and his $1.84 million contract to Milwaukee for outfielder Ben Oglivie . . .

Atlanta reliever Bruce Sutter, recovering from shoulder surgery, is only lobbing the ball and hopes to be able to reach the catcher when workouts start Friday. It's unlikely he'll be ready Opening Day . . .

Willie Mays' news conference to be introduced as a member of the San Francisco Giants' staff was a bit unusual. Mays began by pointing out he had no desire to manage or undermine Manager Roger Craig's authority. He then said he'd heard the three outfielders didn't get along and, if that's true, he'll take them to spring training and let them "settle it on the field." He said he also would move Chili Davis from left field to center, but pointed out again he had no desire to manage or undermine Craig.