Billy Martin's fifth term as New York Yankee manager ended Thursday in the same manner as three of his others: in his abrupt firing by owner George Steinbrenner.

Lou Piniella, who had vowed he would never manage for Steinbrenner again, reversed himself and agreed to replace Martin."Here I am," Piniella said, "back in the frying pan."

It was Steinbrenner's 15th change of managers in his 16 years of ownership.

But if the Martin-Steinbrenner saga seems like a tired story, this chapter was stunning, and it was different from all the others. Though the Yankees did not announce a reason for the change, it is presumed that Martin was fired because he was judged inadequate as a field manager, especially in regard to handling his pitching staff.

Martin, 60, prompted his previous dismissals and his one resignation with off-the-field embarrassments. He was forced to resign in 1978 after saying "one's a born liar and the other's convicted," in reference to Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner.

He was fired in 1979 four days after punching a marshmallow salesman. He was fired in 1983 because Steinbrenner said Martin was in poor health, a reference to his drinking. And he was fired in 1985, a month after fighting in a bar with Ed Whitson, a Yankee pitcher at the time.

Martin jeopardized his job this year by brawling in the men's room of a topless bar in Arlington, Texas, and by throwing dirt on umpire Dale Scott in a nationally televised game. But Steinbrenner publicly backed Martin both times.

But at the time of both incidents, the Yankees were playing well. But as the Yankees began to falter during a disastrous 2-7 road trip, Steinbrenner changed his mind about Martin. He first offered the job to Piniella on Monday - before the Detroit Tigers slammed the door on Martin by beating the Yankees three straight games.

Yankees General Manager Bob Quinn informed Eddie Sapir, Martin's adviser, of Martin's firing at about midday Thursday. Sapir then telephoned Martin with the news. Steinbrenner later spoke with Martin by telephone.

Quinn refused to meet with reporters. But he told Yankees announcer Bill White, "We have been thinking about (he change) and discussing it internally for quite some time. We felt a move at this time was in the best interests of the Yankees. We felt we needed to have a new direction, and this is the way to go."

Neither Steinbrenner nor Martin was available for comment.

Martin spent most of his last days as manager preparing himself for his firing. Looking gaunt and with the scars of his brawl still crimson, Martin said in Detroit, "If they fire me, I'll never manage here again."

When coach Jeff Torborg reported for work Thursday, he suspected something was wrong when he noticed that the parking spaces of Martin and several of his coaches were empty. Indeed, pitching coach Art Fowler, third-base coach Clete Boyer and administrative coach George Mitterwald also were fired.