CINCINNATI, OCT. 6 -- If the Oakland Athletics are hoisting another World Series championship trophy later this month, the acclaim will not fail to find Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley or even Manager Tony La Russa.

But perhaps not enough tribute will be paid to baseball's newest sensation, the man La Russa likes to call "our most valuable player" -- General Manager Sandy Alderson.

The Alderson tale is among the most intriguing success stories in the game. He is as unassuming as the team he assembled can be overbearing. "Someone has to be in the background," he said. "That's where I like to be."

Alderson, 42, a Harvard-trained lawyer, usually can be found wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes at A's games. He drives an old, beat-up station wagon, and he never had made a player-related baseball decision before he was named the Athletics' GM in 1983. There's hardly a mention of him in the club's media guide.

Yet he has become a revered figure in major league front offices. The scoffs of fellow baseball executives that accompanied his hiring have turned to raves as he has pieced together the game's premier collection of talent, kept it together and -- in what may be his most remarkable accomplishment -- kept virtually everyone around him happy in the process.

Oakland's farm system was depleted seven years ago, but his restructuring helped produce an outfit that yielded three consecutive American League rookies of the year.

In a single offseason, he acquired Welch, Ron Hassey, Dave Parker and Dave Henderson -- feats that won him a standing ovation from his front-office workers when he returned from the winter meetings.

This season, just when his team seemed vulnerable, he dealt for Willie McGee and Harold Baines on the same day. In an era when most baseball executives bemoan the ever-increasing barriers to making trades, he continues to find a way.

"He's one of the few guys who's always sincere with you," a rival general manager said recently. "Everyone else is looking to swindle you. He looks for deals that help him but are attractive to you too."

It's a startlingly swift ascension for the former Marine who, in 1968, traveled in Vietnam on his own -- out of curiosity, he says -- just months before his tour of duty there began. After law school, five years in a private practice and two years as an A's attorney, he was appointed as the game's most unlikely GM.

"All I'd ever been before was a fan," he said. To Play or Not to Play?

Ken Griffey Sr., 40, said here last week that he has not yet decided whether he'll return to the Seattle Mariners next season or pursue a career in broadcasting. He is working for a Cincinnati television station during the National League Championship Series.

The Reds have voted him a full share of their playoff and possible World Series purses, and several of his teammates from earlier this season wear patches inscribed with No. 30 in his honor. Price Going Up

Tom Brunansky's late-season heroics apparently have reinvigorated the Boston Red Sox' desire to re-sign the free agent-to-be. "There was a time when we might have let him go," a Red Sox official said. "But that time is passed, I think."

Brunansky has not committed himself. He insists that the only club he has ruled out, in fact, is one of his former teams -- the Twins. "I couldn't go back there," he said. . . .

Former major league umpire Dave Pallone, who alleges that his contract was not renewed when baseball officials learned that he is homosexual, continues to turn a profit from his plight. His autobiography is a success, and last week he made a TV appearance on "To Tell The Truth." . . .

Kansas City's George Brett drew much criticism as the season drew to a close for playing only against certain pitchers while he pursued his third batting title. But he defends his approach, saying: "Once the pennant races are decided, it's time to be an individual."