WORLD PEACE OR WORLD SERIES?

Arms control went into extra innings following a no-hit performance by both superpowers at the Iceland summit meeting.

For President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev, it was an excruciating anticlimax to prospects for a dramatic breakthrough. For the U.S. public, preoccupied with a cliffhanger major league play-off series, the failure to win world peace on a road trip seemed like a windup without a pitch.Despite advance billing as a meeting of questionable consequence, the presummit put an astounding number of meaty issues on the table. In addition to medium range and strategic missile levels, Star Wars and nuclear testing, negotiators were said to have discussed possible solutions to conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua as well as human rights and Jewish emigration.

The most optimistic followers of foreign affairs were left to conclude that the messianic era might be at hand. The pessimists looked up and saw only pie in the sky.

The reality of summit success hovers somewhere in the clouded area in between. Even after its reported breakdown, the Soviets have continued to wage a non-stop public relations campaign in the Western press. On a daily basis, they have treated us to photos of famous dissi dents they are letting go and armored columns in Afghanistan they are taking back.

It's as if someone forgot to tell the Soviet PR machine that the summit had already taken place. If these concessions are the fruits of summit failure, then perhaps the superpowers should have failures every day.

But the U.S. public noticed almost nothing. Whether by error or design, U.S. negotiators chose to compete in an unwinable rating war with the greatest of U.S. heroes - its baseball champions. The superpowers of the American and National Leagues command both the allegiance and attention of every red- blooded American boy and legions of similarly constituted American girls.

In New York tabloids, the "Ron and Gorby show" was about as visible as the underside of an iceberg, as front pages sang the Mets' success. A media critic for The Boston Globe protested loudly that TV networks "played games" while President Reagan's and Secretary of State Shultz's post-summit pronouncements went largely unaired. But in the Globe itself, the summit was almost sidelined by near-life-size photos of Red Sox hurlers.

Sports fans complained just as loudly when broadcasts of their games were interrupted even momentarily for updates on the summit breakdown. It's bad enough having to suffer through commercials. Who knows what revenge they might have taken in the event of World War III?

Certainly President Reagan, with all his prime time savvy, must have sensed he could never hope to compete for U.S. hearts and minds in the throes of pennant fever.

It's curious to think that this might have been the Gipper's game all along.

Consider the chorus of critics who advised against a summit just before congressional elections. Better to have Congress under one roof fighting over the budget, the president may have thought, than spread out all over the country taking pot shots at his arms control policies.

Consider those who warned of the dangers of a hasty or ill-prepared summit that could prove fruitless. Better to rush ahead but keep the wide range of issues secret on which the president was well-prepared to make concessions. How better to explain his bitter disappointment with talks billed as merely preliminary? The president was clearly swinging for the fence.

Consider lastly a president who would go anyplace, anytime to make a media splash playing to the press in Iceland of all places.

It seems likely the president was trying to throw a fastball of his own in Iceland, using play-off and congressional coverage as a cover for negotiations.

Substantive dealings may require a certain amount of subterfuge, or at least privacy for the public good. Who could have played the media game better than a former sportscaster, long used to playing under the lights?

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