I wasn’t quite sure if Jim Edgar was telling the truth.
As I settled into the cramped, old baseball press box at Alumni Coliseum to cover my first Butte Copper Kings game in the summer of 1996, the retired sportswriter told me I had to run the scoreboard. (Click here to listen to the podcast version of this column.)
Jim was the official scorer for the Copper Kings, a Pioneer League team then associated with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and he was sitting in between me and the radio announcer.
The public address announcer sat to my left, so I wondered if it might be more comfortable for everyone if I sat in the stands.
That is when Jim told me that the newspaper writers always run the scoreboard at baseball games.
Looking back on it, I think there is a really good chance that Jim just didn’t want to run the board.
So, I ran the board every time I covered a Copper Kings game. Then I started running the board when I covered American Legion games involving the Butte Miners and Butte Muckers.
Whether Jim was telling the truth or feeding me a line of his legendary B.S., I ran the board enough to set a precedent.
One day, I think in 1999, I tried to duck those duties.
It was still May, and this Sunday was the nicest day of the year. So, I took my score book and snuck down to sit above the dugout on the third base side.
I made it through the player introductions and the national anthem, and I figured I was home free when the Miners got through the top of the first inning without giving up a run.
That’s when I heard Jim “Fonz” Hanley over the speakers.
“In the top half of the first inning there were no runs, one hit, no errors, one runner left on base, and Bill Foley get up to the scoreboard where you belong.”
With that, every eye in the ballpark was on me as I took the walk of shame from the sunny seats to the dingy old press box.
Of course, Fonz was right. The press box was exactly where I belonged. As long as Fonz was there, too.
That day was the first of probably 100 Legion doubleheaders where I sat next to Fonz for the 4 to 5 hours of a twin bill.
Back then, I fancied myself a bit of a baseball guy, even though I couldn’t hit a pitch to save my life when I played Little League. I thought I knew it all.
Talking to Fonz all those hours, however, showed me how little I actually did know.
Nobody knew the game better than Fonz, who helped keep the Butte program going for decades. Nobody could explain it the way Fonz did, either.
Fonz was cool. That is why he was called Fonz. One of his players told him he was cool like the guy on Happy Days.
The coolness of Fonz, though, went back way before we ever heard of Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli.
Our Fonz never jumped a shark on water skis, and he never started a jukebox with the pound of his fist. But he was a million times cooler than the character played by Henry Winkler.
If creator Gary Marshall really wanted a cool character, he should have named him “Jim.”
There was never a better assignment for a young sportswriter than covering the American Legion baseball games.
During those long days and nights watching the games with Fonz, we talked about everything. We talked baseball, politics, football, family, more baseball and getting thrown out of baseball games.
Whenever I could, I would bring up a certain umpire from Helena. The ump, I’m told, threw Fonz out of literally every game he umpired when Fonz was the coach of the Miners.
One day, he threw Fonz out of the game when he was the bus driver.
Butte Miner Luke Stajcar, who is now known for being Cayde’s dad, hit a home run, rounded the bases and took his congratulations from teammates as he took his seat in the dugout. According to Fonz, the official scorer, who was a mother of a player from Helena, then told the umpire the home run was actually a foul ball.
When the umpire announced it was a foul ball and called Stajcar back out to the batter’s box, Fonz said some choice words and got the boot along with Miners coach Glenn Granger.
I figured it was like George Brett in the Pine Tar Game times 100.
Bringing up this umpire would always get a rise out of Fonz, who would then show off his repertoire of multi-syllable swear words as he described his incompetence.
Nobody could swear like the Fonz. Apparently, nobody was better in the clutch, either.
Of course, Fonz never talked about that. Even though a Montana Standard writer once called him “a fine backstopper and a handy man with the wood when runs really counted,” Fonz never mentioned it.
He never bragged about his many game-winning hits while playing in the Mine League. He never talked about his days playing college baseball or his year in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. He was too cool for that.
No, Fonz always focused his attention on the Butte players and teams. Like Jack Whelan and Jack Cavanagh, Fonz dedicated much of his life to keeping baseball in Butte alive and well.
Last month, Fonz left this world knowing that baseball in the Mining City is better than ever.
The Butte Miners steamrolled their way to the Class A State and Northwest Regional championships, and that was the last bit of news the 90-year-old Butte baseball legend heard before heading to the great baseball diamond in the sky.
Fonz asked about the championship. He asked which players from Butte made All-State.
As the Butte team rolled back into town with its regional championship, the Butte boys headed right to Fonz.
The bus parked outside his window at the assisted-living facility. The boys got out, held up their banner and they tipped their caps to the coolest guy in town.
Fonz opened his eyes long enough to notice and he raised his arm to wave to the champions.
A few days later, Fonz left this world knowing the Miners were champs. His Miners.
The best Butte baseball season in 69 years ended right where it belonged.
It ended with the Fonz.
— Bill Foley, who also couldn’t catch the ball in his Little League days, writes a column that appears on ButteCast.com on Tuesdays. Contact him at email@example.com.
Great article Bill.