Monday, November 15, 2010
Why Mets Fans Want Wally Backman
The search for the next Manager of the New York Mets has been lengthy (the last candidate interviewed on Monday). It's been analyzed to the point of dizziness, and everyone seems to have a strong opinion regarding which direction the team should go. The fans have their favorites, and if you've read anything written by Bob Klapisch (pro-Backman) or Ken Davidoff (anti-Backman), it's quite apparent that the writers have their favorites as well.
Along the way, there were rumors that only two men would receive an invitation to sit down with Alderson and Co. for a 2nd round interview. Then, it was mentioned that three guys might get a 2nd round interview, or four, or five. Finally, it was revealed yesterday that Wally Backman, Terry Collins, Chip Hale, and Bob Melvin would be receiving 2nd interviews. What did all of those conflicting reports mean? Likely, that no one has a clue which way the Mets are leaning. People can cite eight year old quotes from Moneyball in order to push their argument that Alderson wants a puppet, or they can use two week old quotes in order to push their argument that Alderson wants someone who, in his words, could be "a fiery manager. And I think a fiery manager is actually quite desirable. I think that in some cases a manager is not only representing an organization, but the fans in maybe frustrating situations and acts as a proxy for all of us."
A "proxy for all of us." Sounds like someone who cares as much as the fans do, not just inwardly but outwardly. It sounds like someone who would be able to deal with the media and the scrutiny that comes along with managing in New York. It doesn't sound like someone who quit his last two managerial jobs that were in small markets, and it doesn't sound like someone who may not be a a good fit for the New York market. People like to point out that when the Yankees hired Joe Torre in 1996, he had pretty much only failed as a manager to that point, and he wasn't known as much of a "personality." However, Joe Torre was from New York. And Joe Torre stepped into a situation where his team's payroll was so astronomical that trips to the Playoffs were basically guaranteed. No one really knows what Sandy Alderson wants, except for Sandy Alderson. It is why the rest of us sit around arguing with eachother over who the best fit for the Mets will be. We argue because we care deeply about the future of our favorite team. We argue because we're almost frighteningly passionate about the Mets. Whoever is hired to manage this team needs to not only realize how intense the market and the fans are, but be able to deal with it.
Which takes us to Wally Backman, who has been regarded as both a favorite and a long-shot to manage the Mets in 2011. Backman's past is well known by most. He was arrested for driving under the influence 11 years ago. Tony La Russa and Terry Collins have also been guilty of that transgression, so let's bury that one. His other main offense was being involved in a domestic dispute where HE was the victim. That was the past. No one (not Sandy Alderson, not you, not me), is perfect. And it's been mentioned that the Mets are viewing his candidacy strictly from a baseball point of view. Like most, they don't care about supposed transgressions that happened over a decade ago - stuff that could've happened to nearly anyone.
Why do many Mets fans want Wally Backman to manage the Mets in 2011 and beyond? It's not, despite the ramblings of some, because he was on the 1986 World Champions. If that was the case, fans would be clamoring for Tim Teufel or Lee Mazzilli or Ray Knight. It's not because he's fiery. If fiery - and fiery alone was what Mets fans wanted, they'd be on board with Terry Collins. It's certainly not because of a Youtube video of Backman going off on an umpire. That video is incredibly entertaining, but being able to go off on an umpire who just ran your player for no reason (before running you for no reason) does not make someone equipped to be a potentially great manager in the Major Leagues.
Lots of those who are attempting to discredit Backman and his chances, note how no other Major League teams have come after him hard for their managerial opening. To that I say the following: Who interviewed Ryne Sandberg for big league Manager besides the Cubs? Who came after Don Mattingly besides the Dodgers? The point? Just because someone isn't being sought after by other clubs (who obviously know much less about the man than the club they're employed by), doesn't mean they're not qualified. And it certainly doesn't mean they're toxic.
Mets fans want Wally Backman because of the way his players talk about him. Most players will always back up their manager, but the way Backman is spoken about doesn't fall into the same vein of most of the politically correct praise you hear players heap upon their manager. Mets fans want Wally Backman because they relate to him. They get the sense that he cares as much as they do, that he'll do anything in his power to help the team succeed. Mets fans want Wally Backman because of the way he relates to his players, the relationships he's formed with them, and the way he communicates with them on a daily basis regarding their role and how to improve. Mets fans want Wally Backman because of the style of baseball he's known to teach and push. Yes, he bunted a lot in the minors, but research has shown that players who bunted last year under Backman reached base safely nearly 50 percent of the time (hat tip to Acer from NYFS). Which means he was bunting for hits, not to give up outs. Mets fans want Wally Backman because they feel he can handle the New York market, that he won't shrink at the sight of 50 microphones in his face day after day after day. And damn right, Mets fans want Wally Backman because he's hungry and a bit combustible. Backman won't sit back and watch his team or any individual player get screwed by the umpires, as Art Howe and Willie Ranolph and Jerry Manuel often did. We don't want him to throw things on the field and get ejected, we want him to stand up for the players, for the team, for us. Which he would do. Mets fans want Wally Backman because of everything that was mentioned above. All of those qualities meshed together would (we think) make Backman a near perfect fit for this team.
Wally Backman doesn't have experience managing in the Major Leagues. How many days of major league managing experience did Gil Hodges have before he was hired by the Senators? How many days of major league managing experience did Bobby Valentine have before he was hired by the Rangers. How many days of major league managing experience did Tony La Russa have before he was hired by the White Sox? None, none, and none. Without first chances, no one (let alone major league managers) would be employed. No one would get the opportunity to make an impression, to prove themselves, to do something special.
I've listened to Wally Backman manage (on the radio). I've watched Wally Backman manage (on TV). I've seen Wally Backman manage (in person). I know first hand how he operates on the baseball field. I've seen the type of strategy he utilizes, I've seen how he's constantly pumping his players up and offering advice. I've seen how, before every inning starts, he stands behind home plate analyzing the opposing team's pitcher before he jogs over to 3rd base (where he coached last year on top of his managing responsibility). I know how I feel about Backman. Here's how his players feel about him:
Dan Uggla- “He’s one of my all-time favorite managers -- just people in baseball, bottom line. He really cares about the game. He really cares about his players. And he cares about winning. Wally, I know he’s been through some tough times, but he is seriously one of the best guys I’ve ever met in baseball. He helped me out a ton. He’s very passionate with protecting his players.
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. Everybody is playing hard -- I think playing above their ability -- when they play for a guy like that."
Jeremy Reed - 'He’s definitely the best manager that I’ve had throughout the minor leagues. He puts people in situations to succeed. He’s a fiery guy, a hard-working guy and a guy that when you play for him, you want to succeed so much because of the way he goes about his business every day. Every day we had to work tremendously hard to get better before the game. And then after the game, if things kind of didn’t go our way, he was still the same way and still respected the player. He didn’t bash the player. Sometimes you get a cold shoulder from a manager. He was the same every day, and it was fun to go to the park every day. I played every day for him, but he would let me know ahead of time if I wasn’t in there.
You could just have conversations. He’d call me into his office and ask me if there was anything I felt like I needed to do differently, if I needed a day off. Just the communication was very solid. You just don’t get that at a lower level. You get that a little more at the big league level because I think guys kind of know their role a little more. At the minor league level, you don’t really get that, because for the most part they have their guys they have to play. But he found a way to get every guy in there regardless of what their situation was. To be honest -- and I’m not a pitcher -- I think it was the best I’ve ever seen a minor league manager run a bullpen."
No one knows whether or not Wally Backman would succeed in New York with the Mets, just as no one knows whether or not Bob Melvin or Terry Collins or Chip Hale would succeed in the same role. What we do know is that he's had success at every level he's managed. We know what his style is. We know how pretty much every man who's ever played for Wally Backman feels about him. We know how he motivated them. How, unlike Collins, who was apparently unable to "relate to his players as human beings," and unlike Melvin, who most feel isn't suited for the New York market, Backman seems like someone who would thrive in a market like this, for a team like this. Someone who was born to lead. Someone who if given a chance, would have the opportunity to prove it.