A passion for the game

Wayne, Warren Cook recognized by MBA Hall of Fame for combined 90 years of service

Photo courtesy of Margaret Cook: Wayne Cook poses in front of the Glenn Carlson Award Winners display after being named a 2023 honoree alongside his brother, Warren Cook, at the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Cloud on Saturday. Below, Warren (left) and Wayne Cook pose with their plaques after the banquet. The Cook brothers were recognized for their combined 90 years as umpires.

ST. CLOUD — The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame honored its 2023 class at the River’s Edge Convention Center on Saturday. In addition to the usual inclusion of players and coaches, Wayne and Warren Cook were also recipients of the third annual Glenn Carlson Distinguished Service Award for their combined 90 years in their umpiring careers.

Wayne, a Redwood Falls resident and longtime sports writer for the Independent, is still active after umpiring for 50 years and more than 5,300 games. Warren, of Sleepy Eye, retired in 2021 after 40 years and 3,700 games on the job.

“It’s called the Distinguished Service Award and I think it fits us perfectly,” Wayne said. “This is kind of a reflection of our longevity and the quality of work that we did that the teams and our peers kind of reacted to by getting us in line to even have a chance to win this award.”

The award was first introduced in 2021 with Milroy’s Lori Dolan as one of the inaugural winners alongside Greenwald’s Herman Lensing and New Ulm’s Herb Schaper. Wayne Cook described the award as a means for the Hall of Fame to recognize the people behind the scenes — such as umpires and media members — to promote the game.

“That’s what I like to do. I’ve got a passion for baseball and I’ll talk baseball with anybody for any length of time. I just love baseball,” Wayne said, adding that his passion is why he’s been associated with the game for about 60 years now. “By definition, the distinguished service award is for lay people other than players, because players can get into the Hall of Fame outright. So for us other people, there really isn’t a category to be honored other than the Distinguished Service Award.”

Among those people to get inducted outright was Larry Knigge of Marshall in 1974. A former secretary of the Southwest Umpires Association, Knigge was the person who first got Wayne started as an umpire after Wayne graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in 1973. Knigge started out assigning Wayne to District 9 tournament games and occasionally to college games. After 15 years of umpiring in the Marshall area and getting Warren involved in 1980, the Cook brothers eventually started South Central Umpires in 1990.

While Wayne was both an umpire and member of the local media, he kept his occupations separate. Not one invested in the spotlight, he never wrote about a game he was umpiring.

In the decade prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne said he umpired 127 games annually but has been down to 72 games per year since. He added that at age 67 in 2017, he officiated a career-high 200 games. 

“It’s an interesting comparison between the Covid before and after. The games are starting to come back because we lost a lot of them because of Covid… it really slowed down. I think it’s going to come back, but one of my concerns right now is our acute shortage of umpires. That’s starting to worry me,” Wayne said. “I can’t go on forever and right now we’re not getting the younger people there that are going to be out there to replace us guys that have been going on for 30, 40, 50 years.”

Wayne said the reason he thinks they’re unable to get new umpires is player conduct and fan behavior. When young people start to call games at the youth level and are met by heckles and jeers, it doesn’t exactly leave them wanting to come back for year 2. Still, Wayne intends for year 51 behind the plate next season.

“Being involved with it this long has kept me young, kept me young at heart. No matter what your type of job is, your regular job, when you go to a baseball game, you’ve got to take your mind off everything and just do your job. That’s what makes it so intriguing,” Wayne said. 

“You get the players there, they’re eager to play. You get the friends that want to talk to you in between innings and if you want to communicate, you want to make it a two-way street. They say umpires shouldn’t be talking to anybody or shouldn’t smile. I still think you got to make it fun. You’ve got to make it fun for the players, for the fans, and you can’t be a grouch out there. You can’t be grouchy and grumpy… You’ve got to kind of roll with the flow and I think I’ve done that. I’m kind of an upbeat guy and stuff, I guess I’ve been lucky.”


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