Ever since he was pulled out of the baseball abyss and hired to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones in November of 2009, a large segment of the Mets’ fanbase has been clamoring for Wally Backman to get a shot to manage the big league club. He made it to a second interview for the job after the 2010 season, but Terry Collins was the eventual choice.
September 26, 2011; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada (11) talks with first base coach Wally Backman (86) after hitting a single during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Since then, Backman has continued to rise through the Mets’ minor league ranks, from short season A ball in Brooklyn, to AA Binghamton, and eventually to AAA Buffalo. This season, he stayed on as the manager of the Mets’ AAA affiliate when they shifted to Las Vegas, and has done a good job steering his players away from the pratfalls that await off the field. Writes Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record:
"This season has been the ultimate test for Backman, who’s been chaperoning young men whose free time is spent in Sin City. It’s a recipe for disaster for any team, and yet Backman’s players have stayed out of trouble on The Strip."
Klapisch notes above that Backman’s test so far this season (which he’s passed) has been keeping his players out of trouble. After failing to emerge from his rut at the major league level, and reportedly refusing to make recommended adjustments, Ike Davis has been sent to AAA Las Vegas and will become Backman’s next big test. According to Klapisch, Backman and hitting coach George Greer have been put in charge of fixing Davis. Said Backman:
"I know I can help Ike. The first thing I want to do is have a long talk with him, because mentally he’s pretty [messed] up. I want him to understand being here [at Class AAA] will be a relief, where he can correct his problems. It’s nothing to be ashamed of…I’m going to teach him to be his best hitting instructor, because any good hitter has to learn to self-correct in the middle of a game. It won’t happen overnight; Ike’s mind is so far out there. But I know I can get to him. We’ll start right away."
Klapisch thinks that Backman being in charge of Davis’ reclamation may be the beginning of his official audition to become the next manager of the Mets. Writes Klapisch:
"What could Backman know that Terry Collins and his coaching staff don’t? That’s where this experiment becomes interesting, because Backman has prided himself on managing the game — as a former player — from the inside. That’s how he separates himself from Collins. Say what you want about Backman’s past transgressions, including arrests for DUI and a domestic dispute. They are permanent scars on his résumé. But if you’re going to judge Backman for what happened in the early 2000s, then you also must consider his track record since 2010, steadily working his way up the Mets’ system without controversy…Alderson insists Collins is in no danger, but let’s get real. Does anyone think the Wilpons will allow the Mets to lose 100 games without a managerial change? Eventually, the pressure valve will burst. Besides, if Collins was as insulated as Alderson says, he would’ve been given a formal vote of confidence by now."
Regardless of whether or not Backman is the hire, there’s simply no way the Mets should go into 2014 with Terry Collins at the helm. The fact that the team will likely lose in excess of 90 games will be the clincher, but even if the team over-performed, they’d be doing it in spite of Collins, not because of him.
Aside from a moment late last year when Collins intimated that his players had quit, he’s done a solid job of managing the clubhouse. Still, his shortcomings as an in game tactician outweigh any positives he brings to the table as far as being a motivator is concerned. 2014 has long been viewed as the year when the Mets would finally emerge from the rebuilding phase and begin their climb into contention. The club will want to wash away most of the negative remnants of the last three seasons, which is why it’s almost impossible to imagine Collins being kept on.
While there’s a large portion of the fanbase that wants Backman at the helm, there’s also a big group who wants anyone but Backman in charge. There seem to still be lots of rumors flying around about Backman that are false. While he’s certainly rough around the edges, he’s hardly the monster that many make him out to be. When he was hired by the Mets to manage Brooklyn in 2009, I wrote a piece dissecting the nonsense that had continued to follow Backman around. In it, I explained why Backman deserved a second chance:
"Wally Backman isn’t a saint. He and his wife don’t host game nights with other couples. He’s had some issues with alcohol, and he’s had some issues with his finances. With that said, he did not deserve to be hired and fired by the Diamondbacks in the manner that he was back in 2004. After that firing, he certainly shouldn’t have been blacklisted by Major League Baseball. The reason the Diamondbacks fired Backman, was because he had failed to disclose that he had once filed for bankruptcy (not a crime), because of a “domestic disturbance” he was involved in (an altercation with his wife where she struck him, and where Backman was found to have done nothing wrong), and due to the fact that his struggles with alcohol had led to an arrest for Driving under the Influence."
Everything noted above happened over a decade ago. Since then, Backman has kept his nose clean and charged ahead (first in independent ball, now in organized ball) with the hope that he’d get a chance to prove himself as a manager at the big league level.
I want the Mets to hire Backman to be their next manager. Not because he was on the 1986 team, not because he sometimes has entertaining fights with umpires, and not because of the amusing YouTube clips that are floating around (extremely NSFW) from his days in independent ball in 2007. I want him hired because I think he’d do a fantastic job. I want him hired because of the way his former players speak about him. I want him hired because I know he’d give every ounce of his being to the job.
Lately, people have been comparing the job Sandy Alderson is doing as general manager to the job Frank Cashen did between 1980 and 1983. In 1981, Cashen hired Davey Johnson to manage the Mets’ AA affiliate. Johnson rose through the ranks and found himself at AAA Tidewater in 1983. After the ’83 season, Johnson was hired to manage the big league club.
Like Johnson, Backman has risen through the Mets’ minor league ranks. If he were to be the choice to take the helm at the major league level in 2014, he’d be doing it much like Davey Johnson did – having paid his dues in the minors before ascending to the big chair to manage many of the players who’d been under his tutelage during their own minor league careers.
Sandy Alderson keeps pretty much everything close to the vest, so no one should expect anything to leak out as far as who the likely 2014 manager will be. It’s fair to say, though, that Wally Backman deserves a shot. We’ll simply have to wait to see if Alderson agrees.