Every president in moments of stress seems destined to call for one of a stable of utility fielders - experienced hands who know how the town works and have made few enemies but plenty of friends along the way.

They're called "pragmatists." And Dick Cheney fits the mold.Like his friend, former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and like Frank Carlucci, who also fits the mold and who served President Reagan as defense secretary, Cheney has plenty of Washington experience and is known as street smart when the street is Pennsylvania Avenue.

Cheney, 48, has heard the call before.

In 1974, Gerald Ford had the presidency thrust upon him when President Nixon resigned. Rumsfeld, a Ford friend, asked Cheney to join Ford's White House staff. Cheney wound up putting in 14 grueling months as the president's chief of staff.

"In the six months before the (1976) election," recalled Cheney's wife, Lynn, "Dick was home for one whole day - one Sunday - and that was all."

When Ford was defeated, Cheney went home to Wyoming to win the sparsely populated state's seat of congressman-at-large in 1978. He was re-elected by large margins five more times.

After one term, fellow Republicans elected him chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fourth highest rung in the Republican ladder. Ever since, it has been assumed that Cheney someday would become speaker of the House if he stayed there and if the GOP ever won control.

Cheney suffered a mild heart attack in that first race for the House. Last August, he underwent heart bypass surgery.

The first question put to him Friday by the White House press corps was whether his health was up to the strain of the new job.

He said he had been back at work three weeks after the bypass operation and that he had skied at Vail, Colo., last Christmas. He said he checked with his cardiologist before accepting Bush's offer; his doctor said there was no medical reason why he couldn't take the job.

Bush praised Cheney as someone who had struggled with a budget, had be-come familiar with defense issues as a member of the House Intellignce Committee and knew arms control, strategic defense policy choices and Central American policy.

"He's a thoughtful man, a quiet man, a strong man," said Bush.

Said Cheney: "I am glad to be part of the team and eager to get to work."