Miners overcoming esteemed Committee

The Dillon Cubs and Butte Miners played an American Legion Baseball doubleheader Sunday at Vigilante Park in Dillon.

Fittingly, both teams picked up a victory as the Miners and Cubs split the twin bill. Overall, the fact that these two teams even played an American Legion game is a victory in itself.

Both teams hit the field despite an offseason of conspiring against them by the esteemed Montana American Legion Baseball Committee.

As the teams took the field, it was hard not to notice the huge black cloud that hung over the games on Sunday because the Cubs and Miners both seem to have something missing.

Coach Randy Shipman no longer leads the Cubs because the Baseball Committee wouldn’t let the Dillon club play Legion ball with a coach who kept insisting that the Committee enforce its own rules.

The Butte Miners are a team playing basically without a conference because our school administrators let our athletes down by not finding a way to force 16 more high school students to drop out.

Butte currently has 1,016 students in grades 10 through 12. The limit for a team to play Class A in Montana is 1,000 students. A team that has more than that plays Class AA.

That’s a hard-fast rule that can apparently never be broken. Under no circumstances, can a team pass the 1,000-student limit and still play in Class A.

Never, never, never can you bend those rules. Unless, of course, you play in the Three Forks area and your mascot is an Outlaw. That little-know fact is in the really small print of the rulebook.

OK, so that really isn’t in the rulebook. When your coach is a member of the three-man baseball committee that rules the state’s Legion baseball with an iron fist, though, you can change the rules.


The Montana/Alberta rulebook for the 2013 season was changed in what appears to be an effort to make it look like the league actually followed the rules in 2012.

It’s hard not to address this issue without a whole lot of legal mumbo jumbo, so I’ll try to keep it simple.

In summary, players can transfer to a team in another town under certain circumstances like, say, a divorce. That’s what happened last year when Gallatin Valley used a player from Helena.

A player with divorced parents can play in the domicile of either parent, as long as the domicile is declared by March 31. (Note: The Gallatin Valley Outlaws actually used a player who played for Helena through May before joining the Outlaws in June, but we’ll just ignore that one for now.)

In such transfer cases, the rules clearly state that, “The enrollment of the school in which a player is enrolled on March 31 shall be counted.”

That means when the Outlaws’ roster includes a player enrolled in a Helena high school, the team must count the enrollment of that school toward its overall number. (This year would include Bozeman High School, too, because the GVO roster includes a player who attends that school).

That should mean that, like the Miners, the Outlaws would be forced to either play in Class AA or not be eligible for the postseason because the Helena school — and certainly the Bozeman school — would put them way over 1,000 students.

That poses a problem for the Committee, which could have simply overlooked 16 students in Butte and had the whole situation disappear. Maybe if the Miners would have agreed to never beat the Outlaws that would have been the case.

The Miners now don’t have a field with lights to play, so they can’t possibly complete a Class AA schedule. Their numbers were also so down last year that the team went winless in Class AA play. The Miners were down to 10 or 11 players by the end of the season.

Butte’s leadership thought the best option would be to drop down to Class A until it got a new stadium and its roster number up.

Instead of tossing it the proverbial life jacket to the Miners, the Baseball Committee instead chose to put a boot on the head of a program that appeared to be drowning. It did this while bending the rules to support a thriving program less than 60 miles away.

It was so committed to helping Gallatin Valley that the Committee actually amended the rulebook by adding the following sentence behind the rule stating that the enrollment of a school attended by a transfer player counts against team’s enrollment number: “However, this enrollment has never been counted to push a Class A team over the 1,000 enrollment figure allowed from recruiting areas.”

Now, I’m not a lawyer. But clearly neither are the people who amended the rulebook.

The amended rules basically state — in writing, no less — that Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball doesn’t follow its own rules. (See for yourself under Article XI: 2012 rulebook; 2013 rulebook)

More importantly, in a weak attempt to explain its self, the Committee’s amended 2013 rules admit that the 2012 rules were broken. It makes no mention of the coach it banned for trying to make everybody follow that rule, however.

Really, none of this seems to be a big deal if the rules were broken, er, amended, in the interest of more kids playing baseball. The more kids playing the better.

That’s not the case, however. The same ironclad rulebook is being enforced strictly in an attempt to kill baseball in Butte as if it is the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all rolled into one. That is something that we just can’t stand for.

I’m pretty sure 99.9999 percent of the brave men and women who fought for this great country would feel the same way. They’d be outraged that three men on the esteemed Baseball Committee would use the great name of the American Legion to rule in such an unjust manner.

They’d be outraged to know that Shipman was turned into the Pete Rose of Montana Legion Baseball because he called out the Committee for repeatedly breaking its own rules.

Miners coach Jeff LeProwse isn’t about to take the same road as Shipman. While LeProwse is only in his second year as the Miners coach, it appears he’s already come to realize that he’d be better off talking to the pile of bricks that used to be the Alumni Coliseum baseball grandstands than deal with the Baseball Committee.

He’s apparently seen that common sense and fair play simply cannot win this fight.

Because Butte has 16 students too many to play Class A, the Miners will not be allowed to participate in the Southern A District tournament at the end of the regular season. That means they have no chance of playing at the State tournament.

Butte, by the way, was told this final enrollment decision about two weeks before the March 31 deadline. It seems they just couldn’t wait to break the bad news. Also, it should be pointed out that if the limit was raised to 1,500 students, only Butte would be affected by the move.

Butte will be allowed to play what is basically play a Southern A schedule, though it is not clear if their games will count in conference standings.

This will only go to serve as a motivator to LeProwse and his Miners. They’re going to keep track of the standings themselves if they have to, and they’re going to enter each contest with a chip on their shoulders.

Actually, they entered the offseason with a chip on their shoulders, and that already seems to be playing in Butte’s favor.

The smart money this winter was on the Butte Legion program not fielding a team at all considering all the issues it was facing — like that whole stadium in rubble thing.

Instead, LeProwse has rallied the troops. The Miners have 10 players returning from last year, and they have 19 new players.

Instead of having no team at all, Butte will field two — the Miners and the Muckers. The Muckers are full of 14-year-old players and they’ll play a schedule against younger teams, so this isn’t a return to the glory days. But it’s a step.

The Butte Legion program is also working to find a field of their own. (The teams will play at Copper Mountain Park this season.)

In a few years — maybe sooner — Butte baseball will be all the way back. Maybe it will be better than ever.

Making that comeback even sweeter for the Butte boys will be the knowledge that each win along the way is a slap in the face of the esteemed Baseball Committee.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.