Commissioners drop ball on baseball stadium name

Commissioners drop ball on baseball stadium name

It appears that the Butte Miners and Muckers are about to head through the baseball season playing on a field with no name.

If that doesn’t bring the tune and lyrics of a great song by the band America to your mind, it definitely should make you wonder how in the heck our local government ever gets anything accomplished.

We are less than a month before the grand opening of our very own field of dreams at Copper Mountain Park, and the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners already made the first error.

Hopefully, it doesn’t prove to be too costly.

This blunder from the commissioners came because they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

In case you haven’t noticed, a big, beautiful ballpark has been under construction at Copper Mountain for the better part of the last two years. It is a project that has been in the works since the American Legion baseball program lost its home at Montana Tech several years ago.

The stadium, which is nearly complete, was set to have a pretty terrific name: Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.

“Miners Field,” has a double meaning. First, it’s the home of the Butte Miners baseball team. Second, the park is aimed directly at the operating mine on the northeast side of town where real miners work around the clock.

Also, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation generously donated $1 million for the ballpark. The Foundation requested the name Miners Field.

“3 Legends Stadium” is a name honoring a trio of legendary Butte men who kept Legion baseball alive in the Mining City when every other force was fighting against it. Those legends are Judge Jack Whelan, Jim “Fonz” Hanley and the late Jack Cavanagh.

Without the tireless work of these three men — and their remarkable wives — Legion baseball in Butte would be no more. There’s no question about that.

This name was approved unanimously by a committee appointed by former chief executive Matt Vincent, the Butte American Legion Board and the Washington Foundation. Not one person voted against the name because, well, it is perfect in the eyes of every person who has paid attention to Legion baseball in Butte over the last four decades.

But one person spoke against the name — because he wanted the stadium’s name to include his father — and the commissioners flopped like a soccer player.

They denied the name and referred the matter back for consideration for a possible better name. Yes, it took one person to complain to disrupt the approval of the stadium name, which was in the works for two years and thought to be mere formality.

So, what happens when the commission is pressed with serious issues like taxes, zoning and, God forbid, potholes?

Never mind that last one. The pothole problem went away when Vincent lost the election in November. They were his solely his fault.

Paying taxes certainly hurts my feelings. Would we abolish all local taxes if I went in front of the council and raised a fuss?

Why didn’t the council consider my feelings when it raised the price of a membership at the Highland View Golf Course by $25 this season? Again, that hurts my feelings.

But feelings get hurt by government decisions all the time. If those feelings are the driving force of any decision made by the commission, then it is time for the commissioners to hit the bricks.

They were, after all, elected by the people of the county to make hard decisions. And, really, this decision is not hard at all.

Granted, the Judge, Fonz and Cav were not the only people ever to give their time to the Legion program in Butte.

Many Butte baseball stalwarts are very worthy of consideration to be honored at the completion of the new stadium. Those names include, but certainly are not limited to, Jim Kello, Tom Mulcahy and Rob Johnson.

The late Jim Kello was the coach of Butte’s last state championship in 1953. He also played on a state championship team before serving Montana baseball as an official and statewide commissioner.

Mulcahy left Butte to become a Hall of Famer at Gonzaga University and long career as a front-office man with the San Diego Padres.

Johnson, of course, also made the Butte Legion program proud when he played for the Seattle Mariners, Padres, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

When the naming of the stadium was discussed, the names of Kello, Mulcahy and Johnson were among those brought up, and it was the consensus that all should be honored in some way, and they will be.

The unanimous thought, though, was that the stadium should be named in honor of the Judge, Fonz and Cav. The people who made those decisions include current and former coaches, former players, baseball fans and a couple of lowly sportswriters.

Eso Naranche was not the greatest football player Butte High ever saw, and he wasn’t the only Butte man killed fighting for our country in World War II.

However, it was clear so many decades ago that football stadium next to Butte High after the former Bulldogs and Montana Grizzlies star.

This isn’t about batting average and it isn’t about coaching victories. It is about the three men who gave everything they had for the Legion program long after failing health said they should stop.

Together, these men have dedicated their lives to Legion baseball in Butte, where we don’t have high school ball, for more than a 100 years, and they still do so today.

May 19 is the night the Miners plan to hold a grand opening ceremony to honor those three Butte baseball legends.

Unfortunately, Cav will only be there in spirit because he passed away several years ago. Even though they are no longer in the best of health, the plan is for the Judge and Fonz to be there for that special night.

The naming of the stadium is time sensitive, and the commissioners must pick up the ball they dropped and atone for this error right now. Delaying this special night would be nothing short of disgraceful.

What is even more upsetting than the thought of the stadium name not honoring the Judge, Fonz and Cav is thinking what kind of name the stadium will get now that our unimaginative commissioners involved themselves in the final hours.

The kind of spineless decisions like the one they made last week is the kind of thinking that gives us milquetoast names like Bulldog Memorial Stadium. Whatever that means.

Let’s hand out some participation trophies while we’re at it.

If the commissioners don’t reverse this embarrassing decision, the Butte baseball players just might be better off playing on a field with no name.

— Bill Foley, who can’t get the band America out of his head, writes a column that appears Tuesday on Email him at Follow him at

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  • Bill Foley
    April 25, 2017, 9:23 pm

    The following comment is from Mark Hislop:

    The Butte American Legion Baseball program has produced plenty of great athletes and many more great citizens in our town. The time, energy, and selfless dedication of volunteers is at the core of what allows these baseball players to succeed and achieve the greatness that comes with success on the field.

    There is no greater example of that than the lifetime of service that Judge Whalen, “Fonz” Hanley and Jack Cavanaugh have given to the Legion program. In 1961, Legion Baseball in Butte had folded. Seven years later, Judge Whalen resurrected the program. His passion for baseball and the youth of Butte has now spanned nearly fifty years.

    As with any volunteer organization, there are many that give their time and money. These three set the standard. Season after season, year after year. Cav at the ticket booth, Fonz in the announcer’s booth, and the Judge everywhere. This was the program for the bulk of forty years.

    We, as an organization, felt it only proper to name the stadium after the three men who made the new stadium possible. For if it weren’t for them, this program would only be a memory here in Butte, America. We have plans to honor the great players and coaches that this program has produced, but it seemed only fitting to first honor the people who asked for no recognition that made all of their accomplishments possible in the first place.

    Mark Hislop


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