Even in his moments of triumph there is much to pity about Billy Martin, the eternal brawler. Now he is a pathetic figure, pushed from the one job - Yankee manager - he so coveted. Still, it is too early to write his athletic obituary.

When some of us were about to tackle that very chore - with relish - after Martin was fired by the Texas Rangers almost three years ago to the day, Billy Hunter, then an Oriole coach, said no.

"He'll bounce back," Hunter said. "He always does."

And he probably will again, unless those stories about his drinking and his liver are more serious than anyone admits. Look around the majors. Which owners have spent the most money or demanded a winner quickest? Which teams need a brilliant bench manager?

Start linking them with Martin.

Martin cannot walk away from baseball - and inner demons make it impossible for him to exist in baseball much longer than two years at a time with the same team. Usually, Martin is the one slinging the knives toward vulnerable backs, or intruding on other's turf in management, or simply punching sombody.

With the Yankees, he took as much as he ever gave, from other heavyweights skilled in office politics and with lavish egos that need stroking. Too much consumption of the Reggie Bar tends to upset the stomach; George Steinbrenner is a perennial finalist in sport's annual Mr. Meddle contest.

One incident from Martin's final day with the Yankees illuminates the Yankee cauldron. Hours before he "resigned" Martin allegedly had said of Jackson and his boss, Steinbrenner: "The two of them deserve each other. One's a born liar; the other's convicted."

First baseman Chris Chambliss, noticing a crowd in the lobby of the Yankees' hotel in Kansas City the next morning, inquired about the root of the excitement and was shown a newspaper account of Martin's quotes.

"That," he said. "I read that. It that all it is?"

"Imagine. The manager blasts his most expensive player and the owner in the bluntest language possible and Chambliss reacts as though it had happened almost every day, like batting practice.

It had.

Of course, Martin was doing to Steinbrenner almost exactly what Jackson had done to Martin about a week earlier - disobeying an order.

Martin had shown up Jackson by asking him to bunt. When Jackson had been sufficiently embarrassed by missing the attempt, Martin ordered him to swing away. Defiant, Jackson tried two more bunts - and struck out.

For such callous disregard of a direct command, Jackson was suspended five days, costing him an estimated $10,000 in lost salary. When Jackson was not as contrite as Martin had wanted, the manager blasted him again in print.

The Martin did a Jackson number on Steinbrenner - the managerial equivalent of ignoring th signs.

Considering Martin's scads of insubordinate moves in the past, with other teams as well as the Yankees, Steinbrenner inserted a clause in the contract Martin signed a year ago that the manager would make no public statements critical of the owner.

Reminding the world that Steinbrenner had been convicted for making illegal donations to the Nixon campaign is much more of sin than ignoring the hit sign. Reggie will do well to learn from the master.

Ironically, Martin and Steinbrenner had completed one of those clever beer commercials just days before the final fuss. In it, Steinbrenner says at one point: "You're fired."

And Martin replies: "What, again?"

By Martin's count, he had been fired five times last year, possibly a major-league record for a manager who also won the World Series in the same season. Tactically, he was just as goot this season, except that his regular pitching rotation often was reduced to one reliable arm - Ron Guidry's.

Said Jackson yesterday: "I haven't said anything for two days but 'no comment' and I'm tired of hearing my own voice. Do you want me to say he's a bad man - that I'm free at last, like in slave days?"

Having said that, Jackson said he would not say it, adding, ever so humbly, "It was very unfortunate and I'm sorry."

Probably, the same number of players who worked under his love Martin as hate Martin. Roy Howell of Toronto, who broke into the majors under Martin four years ago in Texas, said:

"At the time, I was 20 years old. He's tough on younger players. He drives them. He pounds them. He'll embarrass you in front of 50,000 fans one minute and shake your hand the next.

"He demands more than 100 percent. He said to me at the All-Star Game (Howell was the Blue Jay representative): 'Now you know why I jumped all over you. You made it."

Martin's standard line throughout his career has been. "I'm a one-year manager only if the front office interferes with my running of the ball club. If it leaves me alone, I'm a 20-year manager."

Ironically, Martin was only No. 3 Yankee villain lately. And those who remind us that events of the past years have Martin looking well beyond his 50 years are reminded that Martin caused a flock of 25-year-olds to look 40.

The surprising aspect of all of this is not Martin's departure or any of the reaction but that anyone would want his job. But Bob Lemon, himself fired as White Sox manager just the other week, admitted upon accepting the assignment: "You never really know how hot the kitchen is until you get in."