‘Defiant’ till the end, Backman leaves Mets
Iconic Cyclones Manager Resigns, or is Pushed Out, of Organization
Wally Backman was, has been, and likely always will be an enigmatic sort.
Enigmatic and, at times, extremely entertaining as well.
The most beloved manager in the 16-year history of the Brooklyn Cyclones was let go or, if you believe several media reports, forced out as skipper of the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas earlier this week, ending a journey many thought would ultimately result in the 61-year-old finding his way into the parent-club Mets’ dugout.
You see, there are always two sides to the story when it comes to Wally Backman, his and everyone else’s.
“I chose to resign because I didn’t see a future at the Major League level with the Mets at this time,” Backman said in a self-issued statement, staving off reports that he and current Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had reached a breaking point in their, at-times, tempestuous relationship.
“My ultimate goal is to manage in the big leagues or to be hired in a Major League coaching position,” added Backman. “And the best avenue to achieve this dream is to seek employment opportunities with other Major League organizations.”
Those opportunities may or may not be available to Backman at this point.
Back in the summer of 2010, his phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook when Mets and Cyclones COO Jeff Wilpon decided to bring the organization’s 1977 first-round pick and 1986 World Series hero back into the fold with the first stop being in Coney Island at the franchise’s Class A short-season affiliate by the sea.
This was after Backman had lost a big league job in Arizona before managing a single game back in 2004 after reports emerged that he had omitted several legal and financial issues from his resume.
This was after Backman had gone viral – if they even called it that back then – in 2007 for an epic managerial rant against his own club in the Independent South Coast League, a readily available YouTube clip that was part of a reality TV series documenting his summer with the South Georgia Peanuts.
But Wilpon believed in Backman’s baseball acumen, something that has never really every been in question, and the results were instant and undeniable.
On his best behavior in the dugout, in the clubhouse and with the media, Backman guided the Cyclones to 51 wins in 76 games, including a staggering a 30-8 mark at home, resulting in a trip, albeit a failed one, to the New York-Penn League Championship Series.
The Baby Bums led the 14-team circuit in ERA and team batting average and even boasted the league’s batting champion in future Met and Backman favorite Darrell Ceciliani.
Even more importantly, Brooklyn was abuzz with Wally-Mania as the manager was the most popular figure to ever grace the home team dugout or third-base line.
That includes former Cyclones skippers and coaches like Tim Teufel, Backman’s second base platoon-mate on that magical ’86 squad, Bobby Ojeda, Frank Viola, Mookie Wilson, both Edgar and Edgardo Alfonzo and Howard Johnson.
Backman was so impressive in his first, and what turned out to be his only season here, that he emerged as a strong candidate for the Mets’ open managerial position in 2011.
But Alderson, entering his first full year on the job, opted for what many would deem as a safer pick in Terry Collins, who validated that decision by guiding the Mets to their first World Series appearance in 15 years last fall.
Like a good soldier, Backman accepted his fate and remained on call if the Mets needed him, putting in a year with the club’s Double-A affiliate in Binghamton and quickly moving up to Triple-A, where he had spent the past four years.
The 2014 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year was reportedly up for a job with the Washington Nationals following the retirement of his managerial mentor, Davey Johnson, in 2013.
But he remained a part of the Mets’ chain, lingering in wait in the desert as the parent club began and continues to strive under Collins, who reportedly wanted Backman as his bench coach this season.
But Alderson opted to replace the departing Bob Geren with Dick Scott, who had never worked in a big league dugout before.
“I’ve always certainly admired [Wally],” Collins told MLB.com. “He managed like he played: great intenseness, a good baseball man, solid. I hope the best for him. I really do.”
The apparent last straw between Backman and Alderson, if there really was one, was the GM’s perception that Backman was being defiant of some of his demands, like keeping prospect Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot in Vegas and batting Michael Conforto against left-handed starters.
However, Backman chalks the whole thing up to his perceived lack of respect from those who controlled his managerial fate.
“One of the biggest things I read yesterday was the defiance thing — that I didn’t do,” Backman said in an interview with local sports radio station WFAN on Tuesday. “Where that came from, I have no idea.
“There was a lack of respect,” Backman insisted. “You know, you, work for organization and you want to be respected for what you do. The respect wasn’t there. They can say different. The things that went on this year turned my head. It was time to move on.”
Where he moves on from this is anyone’s guess.
But one thing is certain, wherever Backman winds up, it’s bound to be a story, and an entertaining one at that.
Especially if it has two sides to it, his and everyone else’s.
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