SARASOTA, Fla.—The first time Tim Welke stepped onto a ballfield as a professional umpire, he was a teenager hoping he wouldn’t get yelled at too much.
As the years turned to decades, sure, he got an earful. All umps do.
But by the time he walked off at PNC Park last October on wobbly knees that would need surgery, he’d gotten quite an eyeful, too.
Reggie and Yaz, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. Opening day in Australia, the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
More than 4,200 games in the big leagues, spread over 33 seasons.
“It went like a snap,” Welke told The Associated Press yesterday.
Now at 58, Welke is calling it a career. He had his left knee replaced in January; his right one will undergo the same procedure in June.
“I know my body couldn’t go any farther. It’s a young person’s job,” he remarked.
“It’s the circle of life.”
Played out on a diamond, that is.
Welke worked the World Series four times, including the harrowing, rain-suspended matchup between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia in 2008, plus a bevy of playoffs.
He also did three all-star games, handling home plate last year.
“That was one thing I always wanted to do,” he noted. “That kind of filled out the checklist.”
In all, he called 4,216 games in the regular season (Joe West is the active leader in the majors with about 600 more).
Managers, players, and fellow umpires often praised Welke for his even-tempered demeanour and ability to control a game without letting emotions escalate.
Welke is the last umpire to toss a manager in the World Series—that being all-time ejection leader Bobby Cox in 1996.
But true to his nature, Welke’s last ejection came in 2012.
In 2014, however, he threw out a fan in Atlanta who was heckling Bryce Harper in a profane manner.
“You have to treat everybody fairly, at every level,” he reasoned.
Minnesota manager Paul Molitor was among those Welke said he enjoyed on the field.
The admiration was mutual.
“I remember guys that always gave me an opportunity to voice an opinion as long as it was respectful and they would reciprocate, and he [Welke] was one of those guys for me,” Molitor said.
“He took a lot of pride in his job. He wasn’t confrontational, and very professional.”
In 2012, Welke had a miss that pained him. He called Jerry Hairston Jr. out when Colorado first baseman Todd Helton was well off the bag.
That was two years before replay covered such plays.
The next time Welke saw Hairston, he apologized.
“You learn more from those mistakes, but I wish I’d been able to change that,” Welke said.