Butte-Silver Bow’s top official still has serious reservations about a return of Expedition League baseball next year, saying he wants to see proof that promises of “corrective actions” are more than just promises.
But Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher is also opposed to giving Butte’s American Legion baseball program an exclusive lease on 3 Legends Stadium, which he says they requested in a recent letter to Butte-Silver Bow commissioners.
“I want to make sure the American Legion program is taken care of, don’t get me wrong, and we want to make sure they have the ability to play there and utilize the facility to its full capabilities,” Gallagher told The Montana Standard on Thursday.
“Their request is to have an exclusive lease up there and I would not be in favor of doing that,” he said. “I think it’s a public facility and we want to make sure the public gets to use it, that it’s not exclusive to anybody.”
Samm Cox, chairman of the parental board for Butte’s Legion program, says it would work with the county to maintain the facility and is willing to fund improvements, but wants at least a majority control long-term lease to make such commitments.
The Legion program would promise to work with a Pioneer League team “or the like” if that became an option, but it says it was burned too many times by the Expedition League and its Butte Tommyknockers to give them another chance.
The statements and developments show that fallout from the Tommyknockers’ late-season meltdown and the numerous problems it exposed is far from over.
Steve Wagner brought the college-level league to Butte and was a team co-owner here, while his son, Dane Wagner, was general manager. Dane Wagner took most of the heat for problems that became public when the team abruptly canceled its last six games on Aug. 1.
The team announced the cancellation via Twitter without explanation, but players provided several. They said there weren’t enough host families to house them this summer, food was inadequate and they had no medical personnel, among other things.
Dane Wagner was subsequently fired, and Steve Wagner appeared before commissioners on Aug. 25 and said there were numerous “corrective action plans” in the works for next season. Among other things, new owners and managers with baseball experience were being sought.
The club has four years left on a five-year lease for using 3 Legends Stadium, and under that, it is supposed to work with the Legion on scheduling, advertising and other matters. Gallagher believes the lease can be severed given events this summer, though that is still being reviewed.
He told commissioners Wednesday night that despite Wagner’s pledges, he was “very apprehensive” about giving them another chance but as part of his own review, was speaking with other Expedition League teams in other cities about their experiences.
He also said he was also opposed to giving the American Legion program and its teams, the Miners and the Muckers, an exclusive lease for the stadium.
The $2.3 million stadium was funded in part by a $1 million donation from the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation and MR, and even though American Legion baseball and its mostly high-school aged players were a big beneficiary, there were hopes of also attracting a higher-level ball club.
Gallagher expanded on his comments Thursday with the Standard, saying he had already found no follow-through on one of Wagner’s pledges.
“Whether he intended to do it or not, he makes mention of something he hasn’t followed through with,” Gallagher said. “I told him, ‘Until there is something in your plan that is credible, we’re not going to take any of this seriously.’”
Several commissioners and Legion officials say credibility is seriously lacking.
Wagner told commissioners that “we had a really good arrangement here” with the American Legion.
"What worked out wonderfully here is that the scheduling was great,” Wagner said. “I don't think we did anything to hurt their program."
Legion officials say that characterization is false.
In a six-page letter to commissioners, Cox detailed numerous problems the Legion says it had in sharing the stadium with the Tommyknockers. They included conflicts over outfield advertising, play scheduling, field maintenance and other issues.
The Legion was able to adjust to the Tommyknockers’ schedule of six games at home, six away, but had to purchase another bus so the Muckers and Miners could travel away at the same time. And when the Tommyknockers were home, Legion teams couldn’t use 3 Legends to practice, Cox said.
There were numerous other problems, including plans the Tommyknockers announced right before the season began to build party deck and hot tub just beyond the left field fence.
“When we questioned the legitimacy and the appropriateness of such an endeavor, we were told by one of the underlings that they are building it and there was not an (expletive) thing we could do about it,” Cox wrote in the letter.
Commissioners soundly rejected the hot tub plan, which Cox noted.
The letter said Legion officials were “as curious and excited as everyone else” about the Expedition League coming to Butte, and they tried to help and support the Tommyknockers, but in the end, all they got was frustration and “empty promises.”
The Legion put more than $50,000 of its money into the 3 Legends construction project and now wants to construct bathrooms, locker rooms, a permanent concession stand and fund other major improvements.
Among other things, a long-term lease would allow the program to seek government grants, bank financing and sponsorships to fund such improvements, and would ensure “we have the benefit of our capital improvements,” the letter said.
The Legion would not put money into improvements if it had to share the facility with an Expedition League team, Cox said in the letter.
On Friday, after consulting with Legion coach and president Jeff LeProwse, sharing anything seemed out of the question.
The program has no intention of working with the Expedition League “from this point on and we have provided them notice of that,” Cox told the Standard.
“We had a one-year contract for fence advertisement and have no intention of entering another agreement as our reputation is too precious and we don’t want it tarnished any further,” he said.
Gallagher said the request was for an exclusive lease and he opposed that.
“It’s a public facility and we want to make sure it doesn’t become exclusive to anybody up there,” Gallagher said. “It was built to have multiple events and different things up there.
“We could enter into a lease, much like we did with the Tommyknockers, to make sure they have the ability to play and do all those things and make improvements and work together with the county … but not an exclusive lease,” he said.
Cox said Legion officials would meet with Gallagher in hopes of working something out.