Warren and Wayne Cook umpire together for final time, All Star series game
This reporter got a call the other week. Gary Hess, formerly of Fairfax (now relaxing in Alexandria) asked, "Are you going to write an article about Warren Cook?" Be glad to, why? What's happening? was the answer. Hess, who used to manage the Fairfax Cardinals, said "Cookie" was going to retire from baseball umpiring after working one more game—with his twin brother Wayne—at the Minnesota State Baseball Coaches Association's All-Star series on Saturday, June 26.
It was a great story tip. Hess said to ask Wayne Cook, a former sports writer for a number of community newspapers, for more information. It turned out both brothers were pretty excited about this final opportunity to work a big game together. It is quite an honor to be asked to work the All-Star series, and the brothers have been invited to do that for years.
Warren and Wayne Cook are certainly well known as umpires in this region and also as Sleepy Eye area guys. Warren still lives in Sleepy Eye; Wayne lives in Redwood Falls.
"I just wanted to say how great it is that Warren and Wayne have worked so long umpiring," said Hess. "They never ever thought they were more then the game. They took pride in what they were doing and also wanted to be there. Many umpires are there for the wrong reasons. Not Warren and Wayne—they will be remembered for a very long time. Both of them belong in the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame."
Saturday's weather brought much-needed rain—good for farm fields and gardens, bad for baseball games. "Just beat the rain Saturday with the first two games," said Warren. "The last three games were finally scrubbed—called off at 9 p.m." So the Cook brothers got to work what Warren had decided was his last game, just as planned.
"I haven't done much umpiring for a couple years," said Warren. "And then with the pandemic, getting older, and putting on some weight, I decided it was time to stop." But not without a big finish—working a game at the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches All Star Series.
Wayne has remained active in umpiring and said this would be the last game the brothers worked together but, "I'm thinking of going two more years," he said. "That would make it 50 years of umpiring for me."
Warren answered a series of questions about his umpiring career.
HD: How did you get started umpiring baseball games?
Warren: I actually umpired my first game for Wayne's Leavenworth Junior Bi-County team in 1972. But umpiring wasn't in my blood yet then— I was still in college at Southwest Minnesota State, until graduating March 1, 1974. I was too busy.
I started playing slow pitch softball in 1972 for Stadick Rexall Drug and played for 14 years. Then I took over coaching for Wayne the next year. I coached Leavenworth Bi-County baseball with Bill Groebner from 1973 to 1978. Then I was alone there for two super years, with q 34-3 record. So I thought it was time to move up.
I restarted the Sleepy Eye amateur team with Ray Mielke and Shorty Haus in 1980, after it was disbanded and idle for five years. I only coached two years more and realized umpiring paid more, so I finally got into umpiring.
1980 was my first year, and I worked 50 base games, no plate, mostly with Wayne, with the Southwest MN Umpires Association. My first wife's grandfather, Larry Knigge, really believed in my ability and even got me in the State Amateur tourney in Brownton, that first year. I can still remember the scores. Norwood 4-0 over Marshall and Watertown 5-3 over Clinton. Everything went smooth. Larry was secretary then until passing away in 1991. What a great guy and really knew his baseball too. I am so grateful for that start and boost he gave me then. My "hobby," as i called it, had now begun full force.
HD: At what levels did you umpire?
Warren: I have umpired every level, except midgets. I have done Wayne's qualifying games for kids 10-13 at Redwood Falls [where Wayne organized umpires], but none since MSF 13U AA State Tourney at Marshall in 2017. I was lucky to umpire State VFW Tournaments in Sleepy Eye, in 1983 I think, and in Marshall. I worked one State Junior Legion tourney in Bird Island a couple years ago; five State High School tourneys (last one in 2018, AA consolation in St. Cloud); State Legion in Willmar, in Northfield in 1994 and in New Ulm in 1995. I umpired at16 straight Amateur State tourneys, 1980-1995 and 2000—the last one in Fairfax. I worked around 10 years of junior college games at Ridgewater and Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville—all with Wayne; and college games at then Sioux Falls College, and DMLC way back—15 years total, again only with Wayne.
HD: Tell me a couple favorite memories from your years umpiring.
•Regional finals with New Ulm Kaiseroff in 1980 when they went on to win the state championship. This was also my first state tourney.
•State Class C amateur championship game with Wayne at Arlington 1994. Belle Plaine 4-2 over Milroy. We each had Barry Wohler behind the plate. He made it to AAA with the LA Dodgers. What a great feeling!
•In 1994 - a 13-inning, 3-2 State Legion tourney game at Northfield: 0-0 in the 9th, Tri-City Red beat Forest Lake with the Poppard twins. One of my best plate games ever.
•1998 NAIA Regional at Mitchell, S.D. with Wayne—fortunate to work the plate in finals.
•2004-2011 Twins Nights in Fairfax with Terry Steinbach, Corey Koskie and Bert Blyleven playing.
•2016-2019 and 2021 All Star Series with Wayne in Chaska.
HD: How did you get involved in the MNSHBCA All Star series?
Warren: [St. Mary's High School coach] Bruce Woitas got Manuel Rodriguez (my main umpiring partner for 10 years during Fairfax heydays) and I in the series in 2005. Manny passed away a couple years ago. Great umpire, friend and man.
Brent Meyer and Dale Welter invited Wayne and I in 2016 because they heard we were legends. What a compliment and THANKS for believing in us. They have treated us like kings there, and it NEVER gets old. The games get better each year. In 2018 i was lucky enough to see Seth Halvorsen, from Heritage Christian Academy, as the winning starting pitcher in my 2-0 plate game. He beat Sleepy Eye Public earlier 8-0 for Class A title. He just finished his second year at University of Missouri Tigers, but is transferring out of program.
HD: How did it go this past weekend?
Warren: My final All Star game with Wayne on Saturday was so special. Getting to work with your identical twin brother is so amazing. We both had tears Friday alone, but that was God's wish. Wayne had gall bladder surgery two days after our 71st birthday on January 12. He hadn't worked a plate game the past month, but was sharp as a tack. Thanks to our two teams for giving us, and a nice crowd, an exciting 5-3 game. The winning run was a home run in 5th.
I was so grateful my last week of working out helped so very much. No tears after the game, but a lasting hand shake with Wayne on a Job Well Done. Thank you Lord for holding off the rain until later (which we really needed, too). I only had one bang-bang call at first and a few check swings. I had to duck on an errant throw from right field to third though to avoid getting hit. What a life as an umpire. Forty-one years and eight All Star games, six with Wayne. A GREAT ENDING INDEED!