"I don't think he'd go back if they gave him Yankee Stadium."

Art Fowler, Oakland A's pitching coach

Two hours after the first postgame beer has been opened, Oakland Alameda County Stadium is empty, save for a solitary figure, resplendent in white, lying in the grass outside the third-base line. No. 1, Billy Martin, rolls from side to side, kicking his feet in glee, as two photographers from Time magazine record his every move. Their bright lights and white, photographic umbrellas cast a halo around the A's manager, who is, quite clearly, in heaven.

For just on instant, everything seems so pure and white and simple.

I'm on this one, too," Martin says later, pulling a special advertising edition of Penthouse out of his desk. There he is on the cover, Billy the Kid, with his shooting hand surrounding the fleshy part of the Pet's thigh. "It was a lot more fun than Time."

Billy Martin is having a lot of fun these days. His Oakland A's are in first place; his five-year contract pays him about $200,000 a year for managing the club on the field and making the general manager's decisions off it. Billy Martin is at home in Oakland, in command and in demand.

And if George Steinbrenner called him tomorrow and said, "Billy, come back, I need you?"

"I'd say, 'Sorry, George, I'm busy.'"

The walls of his office are bare and as white as his uniform. He's been too busy to put up his pictures, even those of his granddaughter, who is almost 2 and sometimes comes to the games. His mother, 80, is a CB radio freak. Her handle is Yankee 1. "She asked me, 'Do I have to change my handle?' I said, 'Nope, nobody's gonna fire you, Mom.'"

He has purchased a house 25 miles from the stadium. Maybe this time, with a five-year contract, Martn will be staying put."I hope so, I hope so," he said.

"I never run scared. Five years doesn't do that for you."

Billy Martin never runs scared, even when he's getting run out of town. He seems an anachronism from a less polite era. "If I had my druthers, I would have liked to have lived right after the Civil War in 1866-1867," said Martin. "That's when the West was won."

If the A's win the West, they will do it Martin's way: by fighting for it, as they did twice Wednesday against the Angels. And Martin was so proud of them, so damned proud. "It was beautiful," he said.

Of course, Martin was in the middle of it. The fight continued behind the backstop after the game, precipitated, Martin said, by Angel coach Tom Morgan. "I put my elbow up in his throat," Martin said, flushed with the thrill of it all, "I was gonna deck him, I wanted to."

But, Angel Manager Jim Fregosi intervened as, Martin said, managers should.

If Billy Martin had been born a century ago, he probably would have been a gunslinger.

"I doubt it," he said, "there's no thrill after a fight."

What about Wednesday?

"That's because I protected people."

Martin is always protecting something: his players, his turf, his flank. It says something about the man that his line in the "Billyball" theme song is: "Why is everybody always picking on me?"

Why is that, he was asked?

"I don't know. I'm not concerned about it."

He insists he has enough faith in himself that he doesn't have to prove himself whereever he goes. To anyone.

". . . Why do they always question me, why is there always that doubt." he said. "They say, 'He's okay between the lines.' I go to church, they go to church. I take care of my family, they take care of their families. There is always the insinuation of something off the lines that I abuse."

Why do some people doubt the A's are for real? "Because Billy's here they have to find something wrong," said pitcher Steve McCatty.

Martin nods sadly in agreement. "There is always a new terminology. First they said, how can he manage a club when he can't manage himself; then they said, he self-destructs; he battles front offices. I don't know what else they will come up with.

"Don Newcombe said in a baseball magazine I was an alcoholic but I won't admit it. He said it because I wouldn't let him have a meeting. I wouldn't let him have it because I don't respect him."

A little while later, Martin smiles, and begins talking about himself in the third person. "My manager, I may give him a raise. I have to think about it. He behaved himself very well at the winter meetings."

Fowler says in the 13 years he has been Martin's sidekick and pitching coach, "This is the most I've ever seen him relaxed."

Martin seems relaxed, surrounded by writers from his New York days in town for the Yankee series, as he sits puffing on a pipe with Captain Black tobacco. Then they ask if he is happy, and why shouldn't he be with his hometown going bonkers over Billyball?

Yes, he says, "I'm very, very happy, for many reasons. I've got a young club that wants to play and plays hard. I have owners that care, not only about you as a person but about everything else, and I'm in a position where I can do a lot more than I could before and I don't have to come in early and listen to somebody show me stats and tell me what some guy can do. I've got the stats in my head."

By "somebody," he means, his former boss, Steinbrenner. "Some buddy, pal," Martin says, making himself clear.

"You remember the time he fined me for not going to the front office on a day off? Gabe (Paul) called me at home and said, 'How about meeting me at the George Washington Bridge.' I said, 'Gabe, 'You've got to be kidding . . . You tell him (Steinbrenner) I didn't show. I'm not going to come to the George Washington Bridge so you can say I met you.'"

He pauses, shaking his head. "In the papers the next day, it said, 'Martin defies front office, won't come to meeting.'

"George could be nice and send all those fines back. If I was him I would do it. It would show, deep down, he's a good person."

Does Martin miss the Yankees? "How can you miss George Steinbrenner?" asks Fowler.

The news owners of the A's don't call him at home, Martin says. And, as if on cue, Roy Eisenhardt, the new president of the A's, enters Martin's office, surveys the crowd and says ever so politely, "Can I get in line?"

Eisenhardt is asked what will prevent Martin's history of hiring, firing up his team, and then being fired himself, from repeating itself in Oakland. "He has the ability to control his own destiny here," Eisenhardt said. "He's not going to have things superimposed on him by people who are not baseball people . . . That's why the attitude is so positive.

Among the players, too. Before Martin and Fowler arrived last year, McCatty said, "There was no leadership at all, none, zero, zilch."

McCatty said, "He's not real easy to play for. You've got to be on your toes the whole time."

But, he added, Fowler makes things easier. "He's the buffer between Billy and the players. Art is the go between . . . Billy gets so made sometimes. Art is reassuring, especially for a pitcher."

McCatty says he was apprehensive before Martin arrived. "I lived in Detroit when he managed the Tigers . . . But a lot of people don't know the man. They only know him when they play against him, I think he's a fine man. In New York, there were 25 unbelievable egos. It sounds like the Pittsburgh Pirates: 'We're not fam-i-lee but we're friends.'"

And now, they are a team with a 19-3 record. Wayne Gross, the third baseman, who has seen the best of times and the worst of times in Oakland, said, "He came into spring training last year and said, 'We've got a winning ball club.' We had just lost 108 games. We thought he was a little too optimistic . . . but the minute he stepped in, he gave us credibility."

A greater feat, perhaps, than the four division titles, two league championships and one World Series he has won in his managing career. "In Texas, I saved a franchise," Martin said. "In New York, I took the power away from the Mets and brought the Yankees back, and the one out here, I stopped the team from going to Denver," where Martin began managing in the Pacific Coast League in 1968. "This is more personal because it's my hometown."

And beating the Yankees, to the tune of 8-6 Friday night and to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," that, too, must be very personal and very satisfying. "It's no different," he said. "Texas, I want to beat them and I managed there. Detroit, I want to beat them. Minnesota I really want to beat them. And, Denver, boy, I want to murder them.

"I really get a kick out of it. Vengeance will be mine."