Friday, November 13, 2009

Justice for Wally

After being out of Major League Baseball since his unceremonious firing by the Diamondbacks five years ago, Wally Backman has finally (and deservedly) been welcomed back to manage the game he loves. In a story that was reported online at New York Baseball Digest, it was announced today that Backman has been hired to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones (one of the Mets' single A affiliates).

Although Backman is not immediately returning to manage the big league team, one would think he's relieved today that his five year nightmare is finally over. After ripping through the Minor League managing ranks (drawing raves from future stars Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin - who Backman managed in the minors), Backman was hired to manage the Diamondbacks in 2004. Just days later, citing concerns over certain information they claim Backman didn't share during the interviewing process, the Diamondbacks fired Backman.

Wally Backman isn't a saint. He and his wife don't host game night 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 let to an arrest for Driving under the Influence.

Again, Backman is not a saint. However, filing for bankruptcy is something millions of people go through. It's not something that anyone would ever bring up in an interview with a prospective employer, and it's not something that should trigger a firing. Being involved in a domestic dispute with your significant other is ugly and embarrassing. However, when it's determined that you have done nothing wrong, it should remain ugly and embarrassing, but allow you to keep your job.

Driving while under the Influence is a whole different story. In that instance, Wally Backman was wrong. He made a mistake, and he paid for it - and he was lucky his idiotic decision didn't cause anything more severe. No one would (and no one should) ever condone getting behind the wheel after too many drinks. Tony La Russa (he of the multiple World Series Titles) has made that mistake, so did Billy Martin before him, and a countless number of athletes. While some of those men have a longer resume than Backman, it doesn't make them better people. And it certainly doesn't entitle them to have the jobs they deserve, while Backman is forced to sit on the sidelines begging for another shot.

After five years, Backman has that shot. It's not in the bigs (for now), but it's his chance to do what he loves again. It's his opportunity to take advantage of. For many Mets fans, Backman becoming manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones isn't satisfying because it reminds us of 1986 (I was only 3 when the Mets won that year). It's satisfying because Backman is one of us. He's a human being, and he's made mistakes (and paid for them in full). If Backman takes over the Cyclones with the same fire he displayed as a player, managing in the minors, and managing in the independent leagues, his potential is limitless. If he loses his temper and falters, he will most likely have ruined his best shot at making it all the way back.

Congratulations Wally. Keep your priorities straight, and go kick some ass.

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