I won’t sugar coat things for you (as if you’ve ever worried about the Coop doing that)…I LOVE Wally Backman. LOVE HIM. When My Summer Family was still in operation, I wrote a piece called “Backman is the Answer. What was the Question?“ This detailed why I was upset that the Mets didn’t at least interview him in 2004, before they went on a comedy of errors hiring Willie Randolph to his muddled firing to ending with Jerry Manuel. In summation, I said that Backman may not have major league experience, but he’s endearing to Mets fans and most of all, on a young team, he’d really be a great molder of young minds.
Some things came out recently that raised some questions for me. A piece by Bitter Bill himself, Bill Price, who said that the Mets are playing it safe, and subsequently wrong, with Backman. I couldn’t disagree with that philosophy. After all, I feel like Wally Backman, despite his qualifications being limited to just minor league and independent league management, is the right candidate for the way the Mets are constructed right now, with a lot of young talent and veterans who have not taken the leadership reigns who would be receptive to plans. MetsMerized Online’s own Hojo’s Mojo wrote in response to a Joel Sherman piece about that very aspect, that Backman was not a candidate because Sandy Alderson has reservations about hiring a first-time major league manager especially in New York (same goes for Chip Hale, who may return in a capacity as a coach next season).
Now, I disagree with that philosophy wholeheartedly, if we are to judge Backman simply on that aspect of his candidacy. The “frontrunners” the media assumes are Terry Collins, Clint Hurdle and Bob Melvin, and with Jose Oquendo, a coach seemingly forever with the Cardinals organization but again with no major league management experience, emerging as a dark horse candidate. It seems there are inconsistencies lying in that method of thinking. If Backman is not a good candidate because of his lack of major league management, then why is Oquendo’s deemed okay? If we are to worry about Backman’s domestic disputes and run-ins with the law, then why, as Joe Janish wrote on Mets Today earlier, is Collins’ DUI in 2002 suddenly brushed under the rug? Clint Hurdle has had down years as a manager in Colorado but can be easily swept away because it’s a smaller market and he did bring them to the playoffs twice. As for Melvin, yawn.
I could go on and on arguing in favor of Backman, but I won’t. It’s not because I don’t love him or not want him to manage the Mets next year or for that fact, ever. It’s because of our emotional attachment to him. Do we really want Backman to take the reigns of a team that is clearly in a rebuild mode at this time?
It’s nothing knocking his ability to manage. I believe he played in New York, played on a bruising and brawling and one of the most beloved teams in New York sports history and can handle the pressures of it. However, this is not the South Georgia Peanuts where a loss is taken in stride, and the overall team is looked at as well-run. This is the Mets, with the media salivating at the prospect of them not doing well, and finding a scapegoat each time the team loses. Again, I think Backman can handle that. But can we, as fans, watch the Mets potentially be a .500 team at best next year, and give Backman the benefit of the doubt?
It may not seem like an issue, but it could be for me, as a fan. I’d want Backman to succeed, but I also know that deep down, the manager doesn’t win the games, the team does. On the other hand, we’ve seen demonstrated by the likes of Jerry Manuel and Willie Randolph that a manager can lose a few games without a good strategy for the team. That’s what has been lacking over the last six years. I think we can all break bread in agreement on that.
We’ve also seen that the ties to the ’86 team can be both a blessing and a curse. While Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez are enjoying their Mets renaissance as broadcasters for SNY, Howard Johnson has taken his lumps in the media from bloggers and beat writers alike about how being an ’86 Met means you don’t get ’86ed from the team, ever (just reassigned). That’s fair.
We all know that fairly or not, when a manager of a New York team has a string of bad luck, he gets hammered in the media to the extent that he is ultimately driven out of town. Conversely, praised for doing nothing. Look at Joe Torre. One of the Mets’ worst managers (due to having a poorly constructed team) and beloved now because of his run with the Yankees. When he turned down a contract offer that brought him to Los Angeles after the 2007 season, he was seen as a failure by some because the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series in seven consecutive seasons, though making it to the playoffs each of those years.
One can’t win in New York, unless of course you are. The Mets and Sandy Alderson in particular are taking their time to make sure the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed so that the Mets have a long-term recipe for the success.
No one wants Wally Backman to manage this team more than I do (well, maybe Backman himself wants it too). Right now, I want what’s best for the team and perhaps our emotional attachment to Backman might cloud our judgments going forward if he were the manager. I just hope that if true that he won’t be considered for the position any longer, than he does stay in the system. Most players who have played for him would take a bullet for him. If he can mold young talent at the minor league level to showcase on the big team, I can be happy with that too.