BOSTON -- Perhaps because they failed for so long, Dave Stewart and Joe Morgan are at peace now. Few men could seem more different than the A's pitcher, who grew up on the violent streets of Oakland, and the Red Sox manager, who was raised 14 miles from Fenway Park in Walpole. Yet, they are wonderfully similar.

These are two hometown boys who not only made good but did it in a manner that their cities can understand and love. They have clung to their modest roots, kept many of their old friends and, in a way so anachronistic as to seem almost poetic, remained true to themselves. They've proven again that a celebrity in sports does not have to be a jerk or sell his soul to succeed.

Some still think that Morgan, despite two division titles in three years, is a kind of combination rube, buffoon and baby sitter. Just this week, Morgan almost had the press slickered into believing he'd never seen a computer. Perhaps no university graduate (Boston College, '53) ever convinced so many gullible people that he never got out of the sixth grade. Morgan's act makes Columbo look like a brain surgeon.

"It's more fun trying to learn the game without computers, isn't it?" said Morgan, knowing he'd be contrasted, to his disadvantage, with A's Manager Tony La Russa, the game's Mr. Printout.

"Do computers put people out of work? Or do they add more people?" said Morgan, who played 15 years (187 major league at-bats with five teams), then managed 16 years in the minors before becoming a big league manager in his 36th pro year at age 57.

"I don't like things that put people out of work, that's for sure."

This is a fellow who during the offseasons worked every imaginable job to support a wife and four kids. Operate a snow plow? Sure. Take tolls on the Mass Pike? Why not? Fix anything? Of course.

Every minute as Red Sox manager seems to bring a sort of bemused, world-weary joy to Morgan, who appears both cynical and innocent, depending on the light. "Joe's Pool Hall," he answers his office phone. Then he recounts the time his father stuffed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down his shirt front.

"He wasn't much of a talker," said Morgan. "He wanted to make a point."

Boston is accustomed to insecure, abrupt or belligerent managers such as John McNamara, Ralph Houk, Don Zimmer, Darrell Johnson and Dick Williams. None ever seemed at ease in the job. The burden of the Red Sox' bleak history made them testy. So did the sassy spicy Boston press corps that, in the absence of a world title since 1918, took it upon itself to have a grand old time every summer, whether the team wanted to join in the spirit of the fun or not.

Boston is too smart, and has been burned too often, to take the Red Sox as seriously as most pro athletes would like to be taken. So the Bosox resent the snickers and wisecracks that quite naturally attend their passage.

Because he was raised a Red Sox fan ("54 cents by bus from Walpole"), and because he still is a Red Sox fan, Morgan usually takes New England's sardonic fatalism in the spirit in which it is intended. That is to say, with a deep and almost desperate affection.

On Saturday night the Red Sox bullpen gave up nine runs before getting the last nine outs of the game. A 1-0 lead became a debacle. Most managers would have seen the game as a cataclysmic blow to their dreams. Morgan tilted his hat down over his eyes and gave a sly monologue. "A beautiful game turned into a horrible night . . . for the locals," he said, with no trace of rancor. "{Roger} Clemens was dead. He'd probably never have got out of the seventh. I brought in Larry Andersen because I thought he'd baffle them for a couple {of innings} and then Jeff Reardon would wipe them out in the ninth and we'd win, 1-0."

Baffle them. Wipe them out. Bad night for the locals. Morgan speaks in a Boston version of Stengelese which allows him to be colorful, get his point across (sans jelly sandwiches), deflect criticism from his players and deflate the whole enterprise. It's hard to get mad at a team whose manager plays goofy hunches out of the '50s and never talks as animatedly about his team as he does about the super-phosphate fertilizer he's been using on his pepper patch.

In the midst of the Sox' September collapse, Morgan was asked, with some trepidation, "How's it going, Joe?"

"Had some ground fog at sunset," he said. "Should be a nice day tomorrow."

Stewart is as urban and intense as Morgan is rural and folksy. Yet Stew's just as genuine and decent as Morgan.

After the earthquake at last year's World Series, Stewart spent hours giving moral support to rescuers at a fallen freeway. He's well-known for his local civic good works, especially with kids. Anything from raising money for his old high school football team to giving stay-in-school talks. But he skips commercials and autograph shows.

"This is my home. It's a responsibility," Stewart told USA Today last week. "If every athlete could play in their hometown, there'd be a lot more role models. . . .

"I don't want to be Reggie Jackson-like famous or Jose Canseco-type famous. I want to stay away from that."

Maybe delayed gratification has something to do with developing an adult personality. Just as Morgan came to terms with the probability that he'd never be brilliant (or political) enough to be the Red Sox manager, Stewart had to face the fact that, on his 30th birthday, he'd accomplished nothing of note in baseball. In 12 pro years, he had a 39-41 big league record. Teams wouldn't even give him a tryout after he was released by the Phillies in 1986. He was an inch from being a washed-up never-was.

Now that he's become the first pitcher since Jim Palmer to win 20 games four seasons in a row, Stewart has a ferocious awareness of tempus fugit. The A's Carney Lansford wears a T-shirt with the motto "Contentment Stinks. Stay Miserable," but it's really Stewart who enbodies the credo. The man with the Death Stare pitches with controlled fury. He says all the nice things. Of Roger Clemens: "He was superb. . . . Seven times in a row I've been lucky against him." Of the Sox: "a tough, gutsy ball club."

However, there are burrs under Stewart's saddle, an anger at the awards he's never won and the reality that, unless he has several more big seasons, he may have gotten hot too late to make the Hall of Fame.

When Morgan became Boston's manager in July 1988, the uptight haunted Red Sox finally relaxed and won 19 of 20 games on their way to the playoffs. When Stewart became the ace of the Oakland staff in 1987, the young, gifted and careless A's finally started to become intense, smart and committed as a team.

Maybe it's just coincidence that, when a baseball team acquires a central figure who knows who he is, that team suddenly starts to develop an identity.