Strike starts, A1; Owners waffle, D2 I have no idea how long the baseball strike that begins today will last, but I do know who is going to win and who is going to lose.

The players are going to win and the owners are going to lose.In a very real sense, in fact, the owners have already lost. They have lost in the only arena where they might have had a chance to gain some ground in the ruinous battle of attrition they have precipitated to try to recapture control of the game.

They have lost in the battle of public opinion.

I have never seen a period leading up to a baseball strike or lockout quite like this one. I have never seen a time where so many people understand the issues so well or are so well acquainted with the positions of the two sides.

And that is very bad news for the owners.

In the past, few people beyond the parties themselves seemed interested in the nuts and bolts of the fight between the owners and the players. All they cared about was whether or not baseball would be played. "A plague on both your houses" was the phrase you heard most often.

Not any more.

Now, it seems that everywhere you turn, there is another well-reasoned commentary directed at the owners that says, "A plague on your house."

All of a sudden, it appears that everybody has discovered the concept of the infernal triangle. The fact that there are three parties to this dispute has finally registered with the public and that, again, is the worst thing that could have happened to the owners.

Two of the parties are big-market owners and the players. The small-market owners are struggling. Let's take your money and help out the small-market owners, the big-market owners tell the players. Not on your life, the players reply. The small-market owners are your partners, not ours. You find a way to make them whole.

The more this basic fact is understood, the harder it will be for the owners to persist. The longer the strike lasts, the more they are going to call attention to the fact that their dispute is not with the players but among themselves. Eventually, enough owners are going to become uncomfortable at hearing again and again how this strike is a result of their own greed and incompetence and their ranks are going to crack.

Already, there are signs of this. Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, one of the owners' most inflammatory hawks, began to express misgivings about his own position more than a week before the strike began. Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, distanced himself from ownership strategy Thursday.

There are no signs of similar panic on the part of the players. In every previous strike or lockout, the owners have counted on player unity coming undone. It didn't happen when the players were weak and it won't happen now that they are strong. All that remains is for the owners to find an honorable way to admit defeat.

I am afraid, however, that such an admission may be a long time coming because the owners have really painted themselves into a corner this time.

This strike is the result of two years of careful plotting on their part. They have drawn up an elaborate battle plan, changed their internal rules to make it harder for a few owners to panic and try to settle, and arranged it so there is no commissioner to interfere.

If the owners back down quickly, they will be admitting how foolish and futile their plan was in the first place. No one will ever take them seriously again. Their last chance to take back their game will have ended in disgrace.

I suspect that the owners won't give in until their losses begin to mount and the entire season is in jeopardy. At that point, they will call in an outsider - Peter Ueberroth, say - to make a face-saving recommendation for ending the strike and they will seize it like drowning men in a flood.

The recommendation will be that the owners withdraw their current proposal and think of new ways to help themselves. The only question that will be left is why this strike had to happen in the first place.