No man in baseball has done so much good for the general public as George Steinbrenner III, owner of the New York Yankees. Just think, over the past 13 years, how many people have, thanks to him, seen exactly how not to live, how not to run a business, how not to treat employes.

In just a few short years, Steinbrenner has proven that victory means nothing whatsoever, if it's done shabbily enough. How can we measure the worth of such a valuable lesson? A decade ago, many Americans still worshipped money and power for their own sake. Now, don't some of us think twice? The cliche' about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely once more has sting. How can we ignore the proverb when Steinbrenner proves it constantly.

In offices all across America, every boss, no matter how low on the totem pole, has a perfect illustration of how not to handle employes. "Sure, we're the richest company in our field. We have all the natural advantages in our area. But wait!" says the man in charge. "That's not enough. Remember the Yankees. They should have won 10 pennants by now, but they've only been in the playoffs once since 1978. Everybody knows why. It's all the fault of that loose cannon Steinbrenner. You can't treat people that way. You can't publicly humiliate employes, then say that loyalty is your highest value."

When young people try to decide on their life's work, the example of the team in pin stripes is a constant help. When a giant company tries to lure you with a higher salary, but a smaller one promises you creativity and dignity, you say to yourself, "Am I really the kind of free agent who'd sign with the Yankees? All those guys end up miserable and wish they'd never come. Maybe money really isn't the most important thing."

When a parent is exasperated with a child and wants to use humiliation and sarcasm as a "motivational" tool -- when, in fact, the adult is really just angry and wants to hurt the child -- well, it's not so easy anymore, is it? The thought passes through our minds of all the Yankees who were sent to Columbus as punishment for trying their best and failing. Did it help them become better ballplayers? Or did it break their spirit and plant seeds of resentment?

Finally, when we're offered that big promotion, that dream job -- if only we'll cozy up to the boss -- we can think of all those men who said, "I just couldn't pass up the chance to manage the New York Yankees, even if it meant working for George." Where are they now? Broken and pitied, most of them, unfit for any other job, waiting for The Boss to call and say he wants them back again to do more dirty work.

Just as a nation needs heroes, so it needs villains. Not TV bad guys or complex public figures full of gray shadings. We need a few colossal jerks. It's reassuring to know that Steinbrenner never has passed up a chance to be either a terrible winner or an even worse loser.

By the time he gets finished single-handedly ruining his 1987 Yankees, as dedicated and hard-nosed a group of overachievers as you'd want to find, his place will be secure as the leading anti-example of his generation.

Let's catch up with George's latest addlepations. Just a broad brush, please. For half a season, III said practically nothing. The Yankees, despite mediocre pitching and many injuries, were in first place. Manager Lou Piniella went from popular to folk hero -- always a terminal flaw in a Yankee manager. As much as Steinbrenner hates to be hated, he loathes it even more if somebody on his payroll is loved. "George has been so quiet. It seems too good to be true," said Don Mattingly a month ago.

The better the Yankees played with Steinbrenner invisible, the more it drove him bonkers. After the all-star game, he snapped. Two Yankees were having their best seasons -- Mattingly and Willie Randolph. Both got injured. Steinbrenner used that as an excuse to find cockamamie reasons to criticize them both. Remember, don't get cheered too much or he'll get even with you for not being as miserable as he is.

Next, last Saturday, Steinbrenner issued a two-page statement which, boiled down, was the owner's plea for fans to reject Piniella and embrace him. Talk about acting like a crybaby tattletale. Wait'll I tell you about what Lou did; then you won't like him so much. According to Steinbrenner, Piniella called Mark Salas "a bum" and said Rickey Henderson should be traded because he's "a jaker" who fakes injuries. Worst of all, Steinbrenner wanted the public to know that their wonderful manager had actually had the gall not to be at the phone the minute Steinbrenner said he'd call. Piniella, the insubordinate mutineer, had gone to lunch instead. Piniella had the dignity to refrain from counterattacking.

The Boss called the press box in Kansas City after Monday night's 10-1 defeat with a sarcastic "glad that {the players'} support is behind Lou and not behind me. If it means going out and losing 15-4 and 10-1, who needs that kind of support?" Piniella shrugged again and just said, "These players are giving full effort . . . We'll get this thing turned around."

Any Yankee who told the malicious tales out of school that Steinbrenner issued in a press release would be sent to Columbus. But what can we expect? Steinbrenner always has been the insecure rich boy who gets into the game by owning the ball, then, once he gets a whiff of glory, if you don't carry him off the field on your shoulders, he'll take away the ball and ruin the game for everybody.

The irony, of course, is that Steinbrenner hurts no one but himself and (unfortunately) his team. To the rest of us, he's a godsend, a continual public service. There's almost no occurrence in daily life in which he cannot be a useful example to us all. When in doubt, just ask yourself, "What would III do?"

Then do the opposite.