Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
Wally Backman hasn’t played for the Mets since 1988, he’s still a fixture and fan favorite in Flushing since he’s been managing within the farm system at different levels. We won’t start with that though; let’s go from the beginning. Backman, who was a sparkplug at the top of the New York lineup, was selected by New York with the 16th overall pick in the 1977 draft, straight out of Aloha High School in Oregon.
The middle infielder had a lot of success going through the minor league system before he made his permanent home in Flushing, starting in short season Class-A ball in ’77 and reaching his first year of Triple-A by 1980. Taking his first professional hacks at the young age of 17, that’s pretty damn impressive. Backman made his MLB debut as a September call-up at the end of the ’80 season, and didn’t become a permanent member on the Big League roster until 1984, as he appeared in 128 games and put together a .280/.360/.339 line with 26 RBI, 32 stolen bases, and 68 runs scored.
Backman is most known for being a member of the 1986 World Championship team, and helping the Mets return to the postseason in 1988 as well. In my opinion, ’86 could have been the best overall season of his career, as he hit .320/.376/.385 with 27 RBI and 67 runs scored. He was an integral part of the squad during their playoff run toward history; he did struggle during the NLCS against the Astros (.238/.304/.238), but was able to turn it on for the World Series against Boston. He didn’t record an extra base-hit at all, but he sported a .429 on-base%, which included three walks and four runs scored.
Wally’s tenure with the Mets came to a surprising halt after the 1988 season; he was a part of a successful platoon with Tim Teufel for the NL East Champions, but after they lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS, New York traded Backman and Mike Santiago to the Twins for a group of prospects (Jeff Bumgarner, Steve Gasser, and Toby Nivens) that never made it to the Big Leagues. At the end of his time in Flushing, Wally had a career line of .283/.353/.344 with 165 RBI and 359 runs scored, with his style of play endearing him to the Shea Faithful.
After one unsuccessful year in Minnesota, Backman signed as a free agent with the Pirates, who he helped win the NL East over his former club. He then played on the other side of the state, hanging on with the Phillies for a couple years before he failed to make the Braves roster out of Spring Training and was released by the Seattle Mariners shortly after they signed him in 1993.
Once he hung up his playing spikes, he decided to put other ones on to manage, as he quickly found success in both the White Sox and Diamondback organizations. He had so much success that Arizona named him their manager prior to the 2005 season. However a story got out in the New York Times about his past struggles with debts and other personal issues, and ownership found out he lied about his past behavior. That prompted the organization to fire him before he sat in the dugout for one game.
He got back into managing a few years later in the Independent League for the South Georgia Peanuts of the South Coast League, which just so happens to be my favorite memory so far of Wally. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine sent me a video of him arguing after getting ejected from a game, and it’s absolutely hilarious. You can watch it here, but careful, there is plenty of cussing involved. My favorite part has to be watching the players on the bench not trying to laugh, and once he’s done throwing bats onto the infield, he asks someone to grab a beer with him.
After two years taking his licks in Indy Ball, the Mets decided to bring him back to the organization, as he managed the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009, and has now worked his way up to the Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. He has been in the conversation to take over as manager of the Mets on a couple occasions, and some people view him as the heir apparent to the job in Flushing.
So, here’s to you, Wally. Thank you for playing the game hard and being an important piece of a championship puzzle in Flushing. Also, thank you for instilling your philosophy on the game to the organization’s minor leaguers; the way you played baseball is the only mentality players should use.