Don Zimmer has been knocked out, knocked down, flattened and frustrated so many times in baseball that nothing really surprises him anymore.

So when his boyhood buddy, general manager Jim Frey, told him Tuesday that he was fired as manager of the Chicago Cubs, it wasn't that much of a shock.After all, the Cubs, favored by many to win the National League East when they added All-Star free agents George Bell, Dave Smith and Danny Jackson, were just 18-19.

And just last week Zimmer met with Cubs president Don Grenesko, who said he wanted to evaluate the manager when the season was over. Instead, Zimmer said he wanted to know something by July 1.

He found out even sooner than that.

"When I had the meeting, I knew what to expect if it didn't go in my favor. I was ready to accept whatever was going to happen," Zimmer said. "I'm sorry I'm fired, but at 60 years old and 43 years in baseball, he says he's going to evaluate me at the end of the year. It's a joke."

Cubs batting coach Joe Altobelli, who led Baltimore to the 1983 World Series championship, was named interim manager. He got ejected during Tuesday night's 8-6 loss in New York and coach Chuck Cottier finished up as the Cubs' third manager of the day.

Frey said he wanted to name a full-time successor shortly. Jim Essian, manager of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team, arrived in town late Tuesday night and was to meet today with Frey.

"All I know right now is that they requested my presence in New York," Essian said. "We'll take it from there. I have no idea what my chances are or who they're considering."

Zimmer left Shea Stadium with tears in his eyes after Frey delivered the bad news around 3 p.m. He returned to Chicago and said he would stick around for a few days, thinking about what's next, but not worrying about it.

"I have a future in baseball. I am going to be in uniform next year - maybe not as the manager, maybe as a coach. Who knows. I may be in the Florida State League," Zimmer said. "But I love this game, and I'm much too young to get out of it.

"Ask me if I want to manage again? The right place, I would, but I ain't the kind of guy who has an ego that I'd have to manage again. I might be coaching third base for somebody," he said.

"The guy we fired today is the same guy who won the title in 1989," Frey said. "I still have the same respect for him, for his honesty, his character and the way he went about doing things."

Zimmer was the second manager fired this season, both in the NL East. The Philadelphia Phillies fired Nick Leyva in April and replaced him with Jim Fregosi.