Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way right off the top.

Shane Slicer’s celebrated stunt Wednesday doesn’t dampen his Maine Baseball Hall of Fame credentials. It doesn’t lessen his impact on all of the players he’s coached, and who’ve looked up to him, for years. And it certainly doesn’t mean he should never coach another American Legion baseball game again.

Now go back and re-read that, because many of you aren’t going to like what follows. You’re going to jump to your “Fake News!” soapboxes and twist these words around into something they’re not. You’re going to assume this writer has some hidden agenda (I don’t), possesses a career-long vendetta against Slicer (I don’t) and wants him ripped from the Hall of Fame faster than Kyle Busch flies off the handle after losing a NASCAR race (I still don’t).

But Slicer made an egregious error in judgement Wednesday, one which put himself above all of the players he had made a career out of teaching, improving and defending.

If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t need a refresher course, but here’s one anyway: Last Saturday, Bessey Motors staff ace Colton Carson threw a complete-game shutout to help his team advance in the state American Legion baseball tournament. According to the official scorekeeper, Carson threw 81 pitches in that game and was ineligible to pitch in the team’s next game Wednesday. Slicer insisted that his own book (and, in fairness, that of the opposing team’s, too) had Carson at 79 pitches. It’s an important distinction; were Carson to throw fewer than 80 pitches, he’d have been eligible to go again Wednesday against Bangor’s Coffee News. Eighty or more and, well, here we are.

And here is where it gets murky.

At some point Slicer was informed that state officials were going with the official scorekeeper’s pitch count. If Carson started the game Wednesday, both he and Slicer would be ejected from the game immediately — whether the first offering from Carson was a ball, a strike, a passed ball, a wild pitch, plunked batter, or otherwise.

Slicer decided to let Carson start. Carson delivered his first offering. As promised, it proved to be his last. Both he and Slicer were ejected.

In the minutes and days following, there have been numerous explanations, rationalizations, and defenses of Slicer and his decision. They range from he didn’t know (blissful ignorance), to he hoped officials would see it his way and acquiesce (wishful thinking), to he had no other choice (plain untrue).

What’s hard to pin down is exactly what Slicer hoped would happen as a result of his decision.

Certainly, he’s been around the game long enough to know umpires — and league commissioners — always get the last say, no matter how unjust players and coaches believe a call to be. And it’s always a fragile line to toe if we’re teaching young people that the best way to deal with a decision with which we do not agree is to go ahead and pretend like it never happened.

If Slicer was trying to stick up for his players, did he think the best way to do that was to create a circus around the game and leave Colton Carson answering questions about a coach’s decision — one which, by his own admission, he was willing to follow through the proverbial wall for?

The discussions on this are difficult to wade through, but they’re important to have.

Slicer’s on-the-record story was that he didn’t know until late Tuesday night that Carson was ineligible, despite the official scorekeeper — Sean Stackhouse — insisting that the coach was informed as early as Saturday, when the pitch count discrepancy was first discovered.

It seems implausible that Slicer wouldn’t have known earlier than the eve of the game. Equally unbelievable was the assertion that Slicer (or any of his coaching staff) would be relying on between-innings announcements of pitch counts over a public address system. And we definitely can’t overlook a pitching limit for this one case. After all, health and young arms are not to be trifled with — yield once, and next game, next month, next season, some other coach wants some other exception because he, too, wants to quibble over a pitch count.

Not only does a manager need to be planning two or three moves ahead, particularly in playoff baseball games, but at the sub-professional level it’s a must to have a very good approximation of pitch counts in an effort to protect the health and longevity of young, developing arms.

The whole thing felt like grandstanding from Slicer. His contention he didn’t know, the way he stood alone on a hill above the left field fence after getting tossed, the post-game quotes that seemed to contradict themselves. It’s too bad, really.

I’ll give it this: the entire saga was gripping. It was relevant to the Maine sports scene in a way American Legion baseball itself hasn’t been in years — to the point where people unable to discern the difference between Bessey Motors and Old Bessie the cow from the ‘Got Milk?’ campaigns were following every development.

Maybe Slicer’s end game was simply to raise awareness about the lack of leadership American Legion baseball has right now at the state level. Maybe he’d finally had enough. Maybe he decided that hill out in left field, where he raised his arms triumphantly following his team’s win in spite of the carnival ride, was the hill on which he was going to plant his flag.

But it still should have been handled professionally, with the kids in mind, first and foremost. And it shouldn’t have been about the coach.

On a day when his team rallied, when officials looked bad for trying to duck the issue entirely, and when American Legion baseball was desperate for positive attention, it was all about Slicer. And that’s the shame.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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