Dillon’s Shipman makes waves with Legion

Randy Shipman is kind of like Aaron Tippin’s dad.

That is to say you can always find the Dillon Cubs coach standing up for what he thinks is right. Standing, arguing, pointing, yelling. Whatever it takes.

Unlike the father of the guy who gave us the country hit “You’ve Got To Stand For Something,” however, Shipman actually seems to revel in the trouble.

He also usually finds himself on the losing end of the fight at least when it comes to standing up against the hierarchy of American Legion Baseball in Montana.

You’d think Shipman would be the kind of guy the American Legion would embrace. After all, members of the Legion are the known for standing up for liberty.

Shipman, though, has seen his sense of fair play turn him into the bad boy of Montana baseball by those who call the shots on the Treasure State diamonds.

Shipman recently found himself suspended by Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball for basically what amounts to disagreeing with league leaders.

In the latest case where Shipman questioned a ruling by the Legion brass concerned the eligibility of a player on the Gallatin Valley Outlaws.

This player started the season as a top hitter for the Helena Reps.

He also comes from a divorced home, and his mother lives in Manhattan, which Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball ruled allowed him to change teams mid season.

After playing in Helena through the month of May, this player suddenly showed up in an Outlaws uniform in time for the June 15 deadline to set rosters for postseason play.

The problem is American Legion Baseball rules do not allow such transfers — at least not according to my reading and rereading of the rules.

I’m not a lawyer. I’m not even a caveman. But Rule 2B of the 2012 Legion rulebook says, “A player’s legal domicile shall be established before March 31, 2012.”

When the Dillon Cubs, as an organization, questioned the eligibility of the Gallatin Valley player, Ron Edwards, the Class A South District Chairman said that transfer rules allow the player to move teams.

That would indeed be the case if Legion rules didn’t specifically say that a player can’t transfer to one team after he already played for another that season.

OK, so all this legal talk is giving me a headache.

The Cubs says the player shouldn’t have been allowed to change teams mid-season, and the three-man baseball committee charged with ruling on such matters said he can.

That committee, by the way, consists of George Haegele, the general chairman of Montana/Aberta American Legion Baseball, and Bill Houston, the Class A chairman.

Man, it seems like I’m forgetting someone …

Seems like something big is slipping my mind …

Kind of a big deal …

Oh, yeah … that’s right … Duwayne Scott is also on that decision-making committee.

Scott is the Class AA chairman. As luck would have it, he is also the head coach of the Gallatin Valley Outlaws.

Of course, Haegele says, Scott abstains from voting on issues that affect his team. It would be a major conflict of interest if he did step in to vote in case of a tie.

Of course, an active coach sitting on that particular committee sure seems like a doozie of a conflict of interest in the first place. Then again, I got my law degree watching Phil Hartman’s character “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” on Saturday Night Live.

Who knows, maybe a lawyer would tell you that Legion rules do actually say that the Gallatin Valley player was eligible to play.

Plus, most fans of baseball would want the player in question to be allowed to play. This country needs more kids playing baseball, not less.

Rules are the rules, though. And some rules have very good reasons behind them.

The NCAA, high school associations and Little League Baseball all have strict rules — some would say over the top — to avoid the kind of recruiting that could clearly go in Montana Legion baseball.

Could you imagine if Montana Tech running back Pat Hansen ran for 100 yards three times for the Orediggers in September then was suddenly in Carroll College purple in late October?

That’s basically what happened to the Reps.

If you’re from any team other than the Outlaws, such a transfer seems really unfair. Shipman, though, is the only one willing to speak up.

A talk with coaches and officials from other teams shows that pretty much every team with a dog in the fight is upset about the  player transferring to the Outlaws mid-season. They all seem to think the transfer is a blatant case of cheating, but they also seem to be afraid to upset the men in power.

Shipman has no such fear, though it appears that maybe he should.

The Dillon coach planned to play the July 10 Dillon-Gallatin Valley game in Dillon under protest.

That basically means he’d announce to the umpire before the game his protest intentions. The game would be played, Shipman’s protest, he suspected, would be denied and life would go on — as unjust as it usually is.

It’s not exactly standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, but it is a long-accepted way of putting your baseball grievance on record.

That’s where this story takes a curious twist.

Shipman and the Cubs were warned that they cannot protest the game by Haegele, who sent the Cubs a strongly-worded email on the afternoon of the game. Haegele told me, I assume with a straight face, it was just a coincidence that the letter was sent the day of the Cubs-Outlaws game.

The email warned that the Cubs would be subject to sanctions in the manner of a two-game suspension of the head coach if the organization continued to question the decision, Haegele said was “final.”

An official protest would clearly constitute as further questioning of that final decision.

Not wanting to be suspended, Shipman decided not to protest the game, and he found himself suspended anyway.

At the exchange of lineup cards with Scott and the two umpires, Shipman couldn’t help himself. He told Scott he wanted to protest the game but wasn’t allowed to. Then he called Scott a cheater. He allegedly used an adjective or two with his allegation. Allegedly.

Early the next morning, Shipman learned he was suspended for two conference games by Haegele, who admitted that he handed down the two-game ban even before seeing the report from the umpire. That umpire, by the way, didn’t see the need to eject Shipman from the game for the supposedly egregious altercation.

Haegele said Shipman swore loud enough for people in the crowd to hear.

Cubs officials and players a few feet away were trying to listen in, and they swear (not literally) that they didn’t even hear what Shipman had to say.

Shipman’s letter of appeal — which was denied faster than you can say the words “letter of appeal” — contends that one of the game’s umpires heard Scott yell the same word Shipman allegedly used at his own players during a rain delay that same night.

The Outlaws coach, though, wasn’t suspended.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or even a caveman lawyer — to see that Shipman just might not have been suspended for using one of George Carlin’s seven words. Or maybe even all of them, for that matter.

Maybe — just maybe — Randy Shipman was suspended for his continual questioning of decisions made by Legion baseball leaders who don’t like their decisions questioned.

Such a limitation of free speech and the iron-fist rule in play here ought to pique the interest of the brave men and women of the American Legion around the country.

It’s hard to believe they stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima so they could someday belong to an organization that presides over youth baseball teams with the diplomatic tact of the Soup Nazi.

Shipman was suspended by the same group that threatened to kick him out of the league for questioning its judgment in the past.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Legion leaders bring up the same threat — and follow through this time — if Shipman refuses to let this eligibility and suspension issue go, you just know he won’t.

Just like Aaron Tippin’s dad, Randy Shipman will never be anybody’s puppet on a string.

Unfortunately, that is apparently what the state’s Legion baseball leaders seem to be looking for in their coaches.


 — Sportswriter Bill Foley, who was brave enough to watch several movies about Normandy and Iwo Jima, writes a column that will appear in ButteSports.com every Tuesday. twitter.com/Foles74