Tommyknocker GM should not be alone under the bus

The phone kept beeping with text message alerts last Tuesday, and everyone was sending the same thing.

The former general manager of the soon-to-be defunct Mining City Tommyknockers was on top of the Butte-Silver Bow jail roster. He was charged with felony burglary stemming from an arrest early in the morning.

Not everyone was laughing at the news, but some were. To them, it seemed like a funny and fitting end to the train wreck that was the Tommyknockers.

It seemed like a whole lot of karma kicking in for having those players sleep on the floor — when they were not sleeping in their cars, that is.

I saw some jokes and snarky comments on social media, poking fun at a man who appears to be really down on his luck.

I just felt really sad for Dane Wagner.

He was not a very good general manager of the Expedition League team, to be sure.

Actually, he was historically bad as a general manager. It is hard to imagine a season going much worse off the field for any kind of sports franchise.

From the first day he stepped in town in 2020, Dane made promise after promise that nobody could have ever thought he could follow through on.

He promised a hot tub. He promised construction to add concessions and restrooms to 3 Legends Stadium. He promised a five-star chef serving up meals at home games.

When you talked to him, you could quickly get the sense that he never even watched a baseball game before, let alone ran a team.

It was clear that he was set up to fail in a big, big way.

To this day, it is still hard to believe that the leaders of Butte-Silver Bow fell for it. It is hard to believe they did not laugh Steve Wagner and the Expedition League right out of town on Day 1.

You did not have to be Columbo to see through the sales pitch that reeked of the Monorail episode of The Simpsons.

Political leaders can act like they are betrayed and angry at the team now, but they clearly should have known better. It was really that obvious, and they share some of the blame.

While nobody will let Dane Wagner off the hook for what the players called lies, it is sad to see that the complete blame for this circus is still falling on the shoulders of one man.

That is too much for anyone to take.

Dane became the scapegoat when he was thrown directly under the bus immediately after the Tommyknocker season came crashing down on Aug. 1.

Steve Wagner, a co-owner of the Tommyknockers and owner/founder of the college wooden-bat league, fired his own son as he scrambled and tried to convince the county to give the Tommyknockers a second season in Butte.

Butte-Silver Bow chief executive J.P. Gallagher proclaimed that the Tommyknockers were not welcome back to the county-owned stadium if Dane was still in charge on Aug. 5.

Less than 24 hours later, Dane was tossed aside by his father in a move that came so quickly that Darth Vader’s head would have spun.

The worst thing Steve Wagner did to his son, though, was to put him in an impossible situation in the first place.

Dane, 36, was tasked with putting together and running a baseball team when he had zero experience even remotely related to putting together and running a baseball team.

A google search of Dane was all you needed to see. There was no mention of him in baseball, or any other sport. The only thing you could find was that he was a minister with more than 20 years of experience.

That means he was 15 or younger when he was ordained.

You could also find that Dane had claimed to have written 105 “international best-selling” religious books.

Now, I am not going to say that he did not write that many books by the time he was 35, but you do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to be skeptical. Stephen King, who is 74 and has never paused his career to run a baseball team, has only published 63 books.

Even if Dane really did author that many books, how would writing about religion eight days a week qualify him to run a baseball team?

The easy answer is it does not.

Dane is a friendly guy, and he wanted everyone to like him.

He did a pretty good job selling to and making promises to sponsors. He also made a lot of promises to the players, who were recruited by manager Tom Carty to come and play for the Butte team.

Where he failed was coming through on those promises.

I truly believe that it was more of a matter that he did not have the capability, the resources or the know how to deliver on those than it was flat-out lies. That is more the fault of those who put him in that position than it is on Dane.

Either by choice or by a failure to delegate, Dane also tried to do too much by himself.

The Tommyknockers brought in a team of ridiculously underpaid interns. Those eager interns came to town hoping to learn the ropes and pick up valuable experience so they could have a career in sports.

In Butte, they were put to work flipping burgers. And none was a five-star chef.

The Tommyknockers used interns for cheap labor, not internships that could have helped with the big-picture issues.

Dane clearly worked hard. The problem was he was busy doing everything that a general manager should not have to do.

He cooked, sold beer, hawked merchandise and took on many other chores that could have been left to summer employees. He worked so hard taking care of the little things, that he forgot about the big things.

Or he did not know what those big things were.

Instead of making sure his players had enough to eat, he was busy picking up last-minute ice so he could sell cold beer to the fans.

By the time the players decided enough was enough, they loathed the general manager. A couple of months of broken promises will do that to the best of teams. A season of insufficient food will do that.

Those players probably loved seeing Dane in jail, and it is hard to blame them.

When everyone read the details of Dane’s arrest, however, they probably stopped laughing. At least they should have.

Dane was sleeping in the team office shortly before 1:30 a.m. when police got to him.

He was trying to stay warm on a very cold night with a space header he took without permission from the Alpenglow Clinic, a chemical dependency and mental health facility in the same building.

Dane did not answer calls from The Montana Standard, and he did not respond to a text message I sent to him.

I was not looking for a story. I was asking if he was OK. I hope Dane is not as down and out as the story in the paper suggested.

Over the summer, I had several long conversations with Dane. I would not want him to run my baseball team, but I couldn’t help but like the guy.

I truly hope he bounces back from this and lives a long, healthy and happy life outside of baseball.

Giving him some company under the bus would be a good start to that.

— Bill Foley, who is very familiar with the underside of a bus, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at