FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- Last Aug. 10, in those remembered ceremonies at Yankee Stadium, Billy Martin's uniform was given honorable retirement, consecrated to the company of those other larger-than-life Yankees heroes. Even as no mortal again would wear the sacred No. 3 of Babe Ruth, or Lou Gehrig's No. 4, Joe DiMaggio's No. 5 or Mickey Mantle's No. 7, no Yankee again would wear the No. 1 of Billy Martin.

But the Yankees unretired No. 1 this month and it is the most visible uniform in their training camp here. It adorns the back of Billy Martin himself in the latest manifestation of baseball's most famous love-in, the enduring affair between George Steinbrenner and Billy the Kid. He's here again as the Yankees' manager -- for the fifth time. Deja vu? They've made a frazzled cliche of it.

Once more a vexed Steinbrenner has turned to Martin, even as he did the first time, in 1976 when he was angered by 11 years of no pennants for the Yankees. And then, presto! Three straight pennants under Manager Martin and Bob Lemon who came in for the second half in l978. George was again irascible last fall. No pennant for seven years. Intolerable. He sent again for Billy Boy.

Altogether, the book says Steinbrenner has fired Martin four times and hired him five, in a relationship that has fascinated even those folks with only a feeble interest in baseball. Basic to it is Steinbrenner's liking for Martin's combativeness that reflects his own. There have been estrangements but never any final papers. And when Martin once called Steinbrenner "a convicted felon," he also survived.

In spite of all his ups and downs with the Yankees' owner, Martin pointed out he has security like no other big league manager. "I've got this lifetime contract with the Yankees," he said. Lifetime contract? "Yes, George gave it to me." In writing? "Yes, It's in writing." What possessed Steinbrenner to be so all-fired generous? "I guess he likes me and he's a generous man."

Also, Billy says he wasn't fired that time in 1978 when Lemon took over in late July and the third straight Yankees' pennant was won. "George didn't fire me, I resigned," he said over breakfast the other day. "Reggie Jackson's actions were bothering me so much I couldn't sleep at night. He was interfering with things I was trying to do on the club. I asked out."

This was the year after Jackson, who acknowledged his own feistiness by describing himself as "the straw that stirs the drink," became the newest darling of Yankees fans by crushing the Dodgers with his three heroic homers in the final World Series game. But in July of the next season, Martin was willing to take him on and show Mr. October who was boss.

"In Boston, when Jackson loafed on a Red Sox hit into right field, dogging it badly, I bounced out of the dugout," Martin said. "Thurman Munson said, 'I know where you're going, skipper, you're going to bench him, huh?'

"Some managers say you're not supposed to show a player up that way. That's not my style. I told Reggie flat out, 'If you're going to embarrass me, I'm going to embarrass you. Everybody has to be reminded how Yankees are supposed to play this game and what Yankee pride means.

"We play the game differently. The Yankees create runs. One day after we stole home against Detroit, they're screaming at their pitcher not to take any windups with a man on third. When the fool winds up again, we steal home again. Twice in one game.

"We play Yankee ball {some call it Billyball}. I call all the shots, that's my job. I've got one sign that tells the pitcher to take eight pickoff throws to first, to give our reliever time to warm up, things like that. I call the pitchouts. Butch Wynegar didn't like looking into the dugout all the time for my signs. He's no longer with us. But our other catchers go along. I dictate the tempo of the game."

Martin has promised to abstain from such activities as punching a marshmallow salesman in a saloon on the road, one of the incidents that led to one of his firings. At 59, he has taken a new bride and is a grandfatherly type toward his daughter's small daughter. Yankees pride is a big thing with Martin. He dotes on those Yankees years of 1950-56 when he was Casey Stengel's second baseman on those six pennant winners and five-time World Series champs. "I was a career .257 hitter, but when it came to those six World Series I hit .333."

The record he put into the World Series books in 1953 is still there -- a six-game average of .500 against the Dodgers. "I always liked the pressure. I had to fight all the way," Martin said. "I was a poor kid, a WPA baby, and in school they said I was too small and laughed at my ambition to play in the big leagues. I owe everything to Casey Stengel, the only one who didn't think I was too small."

At that time, his big league ambitions didn't include being named MVP of the 1953 World Series and four times being voted manager of the year.

In addition to Martin, the other big name in the Yankees' camp this spring is Jack Clark (35 home runs, 106 RBI in a curtailed effort for the Cardinals last year). Martin already has made a statement about Clark, his instantly designated designated hitter: "Clark could hit in Murderers Row (Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, Meusel and Dickey). With that said, he said he thinks the Yankees could also win the pennant this year, with the implication that Steinbrenner would like that.