Maybe it was the CBS camera on top of the home plate umpire's mask. Maybe it was the prospect of getting 90 minutes of national TV time when the game is replayed on the Fourth of July. Maybe it was the way Jim Perry, a spring chicken of 50, was bringing some pretty respectable fastballs and nickel curves to home plate, rather than the sort of junk usually seen in Old Timers games.

Or maybe it was that new, suspicious baseball.

Anyway, something woke up Hank Aaron, who's 53 and now fits both Babe Ruth's shoes and his pants, and Dick Allen, who's been retired for 10 years. In the first inning, Allen smoked a liner 410 feet over the center field fence in RFK Stadium. That came moments after Aaron poked a homer that probably would have gone over the old legitimate left field fence in RFK.

That awoke the animal spirits. Suddenly, sprained backs and two weeks' worth of liniment rubs were of no concern. The call to arms had been sounded. Who could fail to answer?

The National League led the Old Timers Classic in RFK Stadium, 11-0, after two innings last night. Nice safe lead in a five-inning game, wouldn't you say? Especially since scores the last five years haven't been astronomical -- on the order of 7-2, 5-3, 9-4 and 7-3. Two innings later, the American League led, 18-11. Simple as nine runs in the third and nine more in the fourth. The final: 24-11. Who says the ball's not jacked up? The oldsters used top-quality Rawlings balls all night, though not the same model as the majors.

"That game was one of the damnedest things I ever saw in baseball," said Boog Powell. "Bunch of old guys hitting rockets like that. We got excited."

What difference did it make if the plate was 20 feet further back, away from the fences, than it was in Senators' days? Sure, left field was cheap all night -- 275 feet down the line, but center and right were a belt-and-a-half.

Powell homered off the wall in right under the mezzanine. Dick McAuliffe went far over the right-center barrier. "I hit the devil out of mine," said Powell, "and McAuliffe's was a monster. It's that lively ball, just like I've been saying all season. If I'd played with this ball, shoot, I don't know how many I'd have hit -- 70, maybe 80. What the hell, you can't prove I wouldn't have."

Willie Horton hit three homers to left, one a really bona fide shot that almost reached the upper deck down the line. It would have from the old home plate. Rocky Colavito (two homers), Orlando Cepeda and (even he couldn't believe it) Roy McMillan hit home runs also. However, when Catfish Hunter, the great pitcher not batsman, hit a 400-foot shot over the center field fence, it was time for a horsehide autopsy.

"They kept asking me how I got so strong after I retired," said Hunter. "I told 'em, 'Farming isn't easy work.' "

Warren Spahn and Bob Feller, Jim and Gaylord Perry, Catfish Hunter and Jim Bunning discovered last night the sort of misery that big league pitchers have suffered in the homer year of '87 as 13 balls flew over the fences.

"It isn't like there's no competition out there," said Colavito. "The pitchers change up, spin one {throw a curve} now and then."

If many were talking about rabbit balls before this game, almost everybody was afterward. "I'm not convinced it's the ball," said Bob Feller. "There's no moral victory anymore in avoiding the strikeout. So everybody goes to the plate and takes three big swings. Nothing wrong with that. The hitters aren't dumb. It's like Willie Sutton said when they asked him why he robbed banks. He said, 'That's where the money is.' Home runs are where the money is."

In pursuit of exotic explanations, Bill Freehan may have set some sort of overland record. "It's not that hitters are lifting more weights. There were always strength programs and big guys," said the former Detroit catcher. "Baseball goes through cycles. One factor is that the Midwest had an amazingly dry and warm April and May. In towns like Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, you couldn't hit the ball out of the park until June. All these guys got off to good home run starts, their confidence is high and they feed off it."

After his three home runs, Horton could only mutter, "I wish it had been that easy when I was playing." Teased Harmon Killebrew, "It might be. Something's going on with that ball."

"Wouldn't have mattered to me," countered Hunter. "Did you see all the home runs I gave up, anyway? Actually, all I wanted to know about a hitter is, 'Where is his power?' Once I knew that, I pitched the way I wanted in all the other parts of the plate. The ball doesn't have much to do with that. You get hurt when you throw it to their strength." And not many pitchers put a Hunter premium on that knowledge. But they may have to start learning.

Despite the fireworks, the play that delighted many American Leaguers most was a double rundown with men trapped off first base and third. It went (approximately) 9-4-3-6-3-5-2. Men approaching 60 years of age were suddenly running everywhere, backing up the correct bases, faking throws, catching a glimpse of the runner off third out of the corner of their eyes.

"Power doesn't win as many games as people think," said Freehan, "and defense wins a lot more."

That may have been true in many another year. But in 1987, old truths are no longer held to be self-evident. When the tiny McMillan, who couldn't reach the fences in his prime, goes deep at the age of 57, everybody wonders.

"Maybe," said Feller, born in 1918, "it's time to raise the mound again."