Wally Backman was born in a crossfire hurricane, if you believe the rumors. He managed in the Chicago White Sox system for three seasons (2001-2003) at the High-A and Double-A levels, being named Minor League Manager of the Year by the Sporting News in 2004. He was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks for five days in 2004, before revelations about his past caused the Diamondbacks to rescind the agreement and hire Bob Melvin. Backman managed in independent leagues until this past season, when he managed the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets Low-A affiliate. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a total of four seasons managing in minor league baseball. This comes out to a whopping 9 on my managerial experience scale, easily the lowest of any candidate.
As a player, Backman spent fourteen years in the major leagues, nine with the Mets. He led the National League in fielding percentage as a second baseman in 1985 and 1988, and led the NL in sacrifice hits in 1985. He was worth 10 wins above replacement for his career, making him the second best player in the bunch.
Strategically, Backman has not been Alderson-friendly. He believes in an aggressive style of baseball, forcing the defense to make mistakes. His teams bunt and run like it’s the deadball era, resulting in plenty of steals but also plenty of caught-stealings. He also loves to issue intentional walks. This comes to a 3 on my managerial strategy score. (The lowest possible!)
However, he is popular among his players. Dan Uggla has now famously said: “I’ll tell you what, if you play for Wally Backman, you’re going to be able to run through a brick wall, because we have the same emotions toward him as he has toward us. I mean, I would have run through a brick wall for him.” (Side note: Dan Uggla looks like the kind of guy who might actually try to run through a brick wall.) Backman’s managerial tirades directed towards sassy umpires are YouTube sensations, but there are also videos of him gently explaining rules to independent league umpires who might not be familiar with them. There are many sides to Wally Backman.
But Backman remains divisive. This is because he’s the only candidate we know the much about, allowing us to form real opinions about him. He has very little experience, having never managed about Double-A and never coached at the major league level, yet his players seem to love him. He’s also also a terrible, terrible strategist. He gives away outs like candy on Halloween (look, seasonal humor) and puts opposing runners on base far too often. But he has a mustache and yells, so he reminds me of the terrifying Latin teacher from my Catholic middle school. If Backman is willing to be an organizational soldier and adopt modern strategies, he could be a viable candidate. Seeing that he appears desperate to manage at the major league level, I actually think this is possible.
But there is all that other stuff. Backman has an unfortunate habit of lobbying for managerial jobs held by Jerry Manuel, both in Chicago and again in New York. Then there is the DUI, the financial and domestic issues, and whatever the hell Adam Rubin alluded to the other day. Rubin is an excellent reporter who occasionally finds himself as part of the story, but I also can’t remember him being wrong about anything Mets-related. I don’t know if Backman should be the Mets manager, but I don’t think he will. At least not anytime soon.
Managerial Odds: 15 to 1. I would surprised if Backman were hired as the next Mets manager. I think he needs to rebuild his reputation for a few years, managing in the minor leagues without any incidents. If he wasn’t on the 1986 Mets, I don’t think he’d be a serious candidate.