After more than three decades of hard work as a big league umpire, Mike Winters is ready to loaf.
Consider it a retirement benefit, in fact.
”I’ve had time to take a cooking class and I’ve been baking sourdough bread,” he said over the weekend. ”I’ve made a couple of loaves so far. They’re not perfect yet. A bit of a doorstop. But I’m getting there.”
One of 12 umps to opt out during the pandemic-shortened season, the 62-year-old Winters has made it official. He’s off to other endeavors, be it visiting the Far East, checking out the Westminster dog show or polishing his culinary skills.
A full plate on deck. And an impressive ledger in the books – 3,810 games in the regular season over 32 years, plus four World Series assignments and four All-Star Games.
Saw a lot, too: He was on the field for the 3,000th hits by Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., along with Mark McGwire’s then-record 62nd home run, and behind the plate for a no-hitter by Kevin Gross.
”I gave it a good go. I’m very excited about the next step,” he told The Associated Press from his home in the San Diego area, adding, ”I think I’ve got a few guys in my age range who are jealous.”
No official word yet on whether any other umpires will follow his path in 2021.
Joe West, who worked last year, is 68 and set this season to pass Bill Klem’s all-time record of 5,375 games. Gerry Davis, one of eight crew chiefs who opted out last year, also turns 68 this month.
A crew chief since 2011, Winters actually put in his retirement papers last year, effective at the end of the season. He worked spring training games in Arizona before coronavirus concerns shut down baseball in mid-March, and opening day was delayed until late July.
The reworked schedule gave Winters a chance to reconsider, but he already was looking ahead to days off the diamond.
”The break gave me a good window into the future, and I liked the view,” he said. ”I love the game, but it’s time to do other things.”
Durable and dependable, Winters called his first major league game as a minor league fill-in during the summer of 1988. Barry Bonds led off for Pittsburgh that night at Dodger Stadium; the next inning, positioned at third base, Winters found himself embroiled in his first beef.
”There was a little tangle on a force play and Tommy Lasorda came out. It was a test for a rookie umpire. I knew it was coming – we all did. Everybody in the park knew it was my first day.”
The next year, by the way, Lasorda became Winters’ first ejection, tossed for arguing balls and strikes. Promoted to the National League staff in 1990, Winters thumbed 108 guys in all.
”Hmm, more than I thought,” he said. ”I thought it was 105.”
He had a notable scrap with volatile Milton Bradley in 2007, and was docked the last few games of the season for his actions.
That was one of the few years Winters didn’t work the playoffs, as he called 103 postseason games. Instead, he and wife Ali both ran the New York City Marathon that November.
Over the years, Winters and his wife voyaged all over the world, with the hike up Machu Picchu in Peru and a Major League Baseball tour to Japan among their favorite trips. They’d like to do some more exploring, when it’s safe.
Somewhere down the line, Winters might like to help out in his longtime field, perhaps in training or consulting. He started as a professional ump in 1982 and can still recall those early days in the low-level Northwest League.
”I think back then, I wasn’t hoping for a chance at anything except hoping to get a job and maybe work a World Series,” he said.
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