An emotion that had seemed forever capped has been released. I'm beginning to feel sorry for Billy Martin.

Finally, the Yankee manager has met his match in arrogance and selfishness - and on the team he so wanted to lead for so long. He ought to be paid off and put out of his athletic misery (they still shoot horses, don't they?) and probably would have been by now except that no sane man wants his job.

All the indicators that usually proceed managerial firings clubhouse assassins shooting off anonymous salvos, a vote of confidence, even a walk to the gallows earlier this week - have taken place. And Martin remains publicly at the helm of a team he stopped guiding long ago.

Everyone wants a piece of Martin these days. And even he has never been in a brawl quite like this. If his star player, Reggie Jackson, is not in a public snit, his pitchers are throwing with doll-like speed. Or the owner, George Steinbrenner, is calling him a liar.

"I'm tired with all his self-serving statements," said Steinbrenner, "I don't want to be part of making a martyr out of Billy Martin. He's got the best material in the American League. The manager's job is to motivate and make his players perform."

That was the day after even Martin thought he would be fired. Martin was so sure he even took a verbal swipe at Steinbrenner, charging the owner upstaged him in front of the players and saying: "I got so mad, I slammed the ice bucket with my fist and sprayed both him and Gabe (Paul) with ice. Ever since then, I knew I was gone."

A few minutes after saying that, Martin had gone for a meeting - or hanging - with general manager Paul. He returned as manager, possibly more surprised than anyone else.

The day before, coach Yogi Berra had come into Martin's office. Smiling.To which Martin said: "You better smile today. Tomorrow, you will be sitting in this chair."

If Berra has not turned down the job, another coach, Dick Howser, apparently has. And Steinbrenner's latest statement - "barring any really serious breach . . . with Gabe Paul, it is 99 out of 100 per cent sure Martin will be the manager this season, win or lose" - must mean everyone else has, too.

When the clubhouse backstabbers begin to hone their knives, it signals the end of authority. And reporters hardly seem able to escape the latest breed of baseball specialist - the DB (designated bitcher).

"There is no discipline on this club, not one damn bit," one player told Dick young of the Daily News. (Naturally, Young wrote that "there was disgust all over his face.") A few feet away, another player said: "He's letting the guys get away with anthing they want."

At least the players have not shown partiality. To the Times two weeks ago, a "prominent Yankee" said of Steinbrenner; "He's telling him the lineup. George doesn't want competition. He wants a slaughter . . . George wants 25 superstars. George doesn't care about anyone's feelings."

Entire teams have said that very thing about Martin, and such as Ken Brett, Jim Northrup, Jim Brewer, Burt Hawkins and dozens more must silently cheer each time Martin gets another public thrashing.

Of course, all of this was very predictable before the season even began. This was Martin's third season as Yankee manager, and three years alwasy has been one too many for him in the past.

It was that way in Detroit and that way in Texas. At Minnesota, he lasted just one season, even won to get fired in sports after that sort of thing.

How many managerial lives has Martin? He was fired after 165 games by the Twins, only to bounce back with the Tigers. He was fired after 459 games by the Tigers, only to resurface in Texas. The Rangers fired him after 275 games, but be became manager of the Yankees 12 days later.

Yesterday was his 324th game as yankee manager.By prior standards, he is overdue to be fired.

Possibly, Martin is constitutionally incapable of managing a team glutted with talent. He must meddle, must create havoc where that is not necessary instead of silently allowing the best players to produce the best record. Martin can create sucess but not sustain it.

All of which makes one even more amazed at what Casey Stengel accomplished with equally oversized egos, although his was a less complex time. Or how George Allen manages to tiptoe through assorted land mines with the Redskins.

Whatever fate awaits Martin will not be surprising. Reporters long ago learned not to write his athetic obit too quickly. When he is fired, however, however, his only logical successor is now with the circus - the wild-animal maestro, Gunther Gebel-Williams.