Let’s talk about Wally Backman.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the guy who made the documentary about Wally Backman in 2007 – the one with the YouTube video of Wally Backman being ejected from a game while wearing a microphone. I believe he deserves a shot to manage an MLB team. My opinion is based on watching Backman run his team — on and off-the-field — for one 90-game season in a now-defunct independent league. Backman wore a microphone during most of those games, so my crew and I had the good fortune to listen to a sort of real-time DVD commentary of a baseball season from a guy who is constantly talking – from planning in-game strategy several innings ahead to coaching hitters and picking up a pitcher’s “tell.”
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out a few things about Backman’s behavior during the filming of the documentary:
- The infamous YouTube ejection videos were outliers and they were justified. In a 90-game season, Backman was only ejected three times, I witnessed two and they were both 100% justified.
- Backman also gave two “fiery” speeches to his team – one after the team’s first loss and the other just before the playoffs. Wally’s day-to-day interactions with his club were more like this:
In short, Backman was not some kind of raving lunatic. More importantly, his team won the league championship, six of his players were signed to MLB affiliates, and nearly every player from that team swears he was the best manager they ever had.
But this post isn’t about Wally Backman’s managerial skills. It’s about sloppy reporting and controversies that have been manufactured to generate web traffic and newspaper sales by separating the Mets fan base into two warring factions: Wally Backman supporters and Sandy Alderson supporters.
In order to buy into the “Sandy Alderson vs. Wally Backman” myth, you have to believe that Sandy Alderson, Wally Backman, and Terry Collins share a bizarre mutual three-way personal and professional mistrust of one another. Unfortunately, it seems that most Mets fans have bought into this nonsense.
Craig Calcaterra nailed it with this post. Although Craig isn’t a Wally Backman supporter, he is providing a much-needed voice of reason in an absurd debate that has polarized Mets fans for the past few years — the future of minor league manager Wally Backman:
…that Wally Backman doesn’t have a big league job now does not make him the target of a vendetta. There are guys who spend decades in the minors managing, scouting, coaching — you name it — who never get a chance to manage in the bigs. That’s not injustice. It’s just a function of there only being 30 jobs.
Craig is absolutely correct — Wally Backman is not being blackballed by Sandy Alderson.
In fact, Wally Backman has been a central part of Sandy Alderson’s plan since the two met in 2010, under the guise of an interview for the Mets managerial job.
Since Alderson took over as Mets GM, facts have been ignored, overblown or minimized, to suit the media’s “Wally vs. Sandy” narrative. The end result is a manufactured controversy that is unfair to Backman and Collins — whose careers may be at stake — and Alderson, whose legacy rests, in part, on the success of the Mets rebuilding efforts.
Wally Backman, Company Man
The main purpose of Backman’s 2010 interview was to assess whether or Sandy Alderson could trust him with handling the team’s top prospects as the big league payroll was gutted and the minor league system was built up. The secondary purpose of the meeting was to help Backman further rebuild his reputation in professional baseball – a process that began when Jeff Wilpon hired Backman to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones following the 2008 season.
Since that interview, Backman has managed his way to the top of the Mets farm system. He has worked with many of the Mets top prospects along the way, including Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndagaard, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares. He has brought the Mets AAA affiliate to the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Why would Sandy Alderson allow Wally Backman to handle his top prospects if he doesn’t trust him? By allowing Backman to climb the managerial ladder, Alderson has shown that he respects Backman’s baseball skills. For his part, Backman’s rise to the Pacific Coast League has shown that he does buy into Alderson’s system and he can be trusted to carry out Sandy’s orders.
Wally Backman And Terry Collins Respect Each Other
Wally Backman and Terry Collins are both baseball “lifers.” They respect each other. Yet recent reports claim that Backman cannot be considered as a member of the Mets coaching staff in 2015 because he would clash with Collins. This is incorrect. The evidence:
- Backman was called up to serve as an extra coach with the Mets during the final month of the 2011 and 2012 seasons
- Terry Collins requested that Backman be given a spot on his coaching staff in 2013. The request was denied so that Backman could continue working with the team’s top prospects.
- Collins often cites Backman’s scouting reports on rookie prospects during post-game press conferences.
- Wally Backman has worked with the Mets major league players during every spring training since he was hired in 2009.
Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson didn’t have to allow Backman to do any of these things. It would make no sense for Backman to be allowed anywhere near the major league club if Terry Collins viewed him as a threat or if Sandy Alderson didn’t trust him.
I have no idea where Wally Backman will wind up in 2015. But to claim Sandy Alderson wouldn’t consider him as a coach or manager is just not true. All you have to do is look at the evidence.
BTW: I also run a non-profit called The Baseball United Foundation. Craig Calcaterra has been a big supporter of our efforts to raise money for youth baseball programs in Ireland and the Irish National Baseball Team.