Taking a Leap Of Faith for Hurdle; Not Backman

An article by posted on November 2, 2010

From the beginning, I feel like I’ve been the person here who tells everybody to take a deep breath. Whether it be the fans who want Zack Greinke, or Cliff Lee, whether it be the saber-cats, or the saber-haters, or the Bobby V supports, or even yes, my favorite Mets player of all-time, Wally Backman. 

Somebody wrote a blog today that said the “ONLY” choice for Manager is Wally Backman. Let me start by not responding to that specific blog (we don’t want to go down that road again,) but respond to the overall supporters of hiring Wally Backman. 

First, I’ve found that you have no idea why you want to hire Wally Backman. The two ideas that seem to be overwhelming are that he is “fiery”, and an 86 Met. Okay first of all, let’s cancel out the 86 Mets talk once and for all. I’m really tired of thinking that success 25 years ago equates to success today. Part of why I’m excited about Alderson is, I’m tired of living in the past. I’m looking for a new way of thinking for management and for us Mets fans. Not every problem can be solved with a 1986 uniform. 

This is also the number 1 reason why I don’t want to see Bobby Valentine hired. Is he a lot of fun to watch? Is he a good manager? Yes, and yes. But hiring him would be as close to hiring Billy Martin as the Mets could get. He WAS the Manager, move on. Let somebody else have him. I really think part of the reason why Mets fans that want Bobby V do so, is because they don’t want to see him in another uniform. Deal with it. 

So back to Backman. When the Diamondbacks hired and then fired him, I felt bad for Wally. Who didn’t? But you have to admit, it wasn’t the best situation for either party. He was hired to manage a very bad team. He was hired to manage a team that was coming off a 51 win, 2004 season. In hiring Backman, they were investing in his future as a Manager, not expecting him to take over a team with a potential for winning. Who wanted to go to Arizona at that point? They literally had nothing attractive about their team for an experienced Manager to come in. So, they hired an unproven big league guy that they hoped would grow within their club. 

The Mets aren’t in that situation. Whether you like the makeup of the roster, you have to admit they should be better than they are. This isn’t some young, inexperienced team like the Royals or Pirates that need somebody to teach them how to be a big leaguer. They need somebody who can show them how to win. This idea that you bring a fiery guy in to whip the players into shape is honestly ridiculous. 

Think of it in your job. If you have talent and you’re above average at your job. Your old boss leaves, and they hire an unproven person to run your office who’s best trait is that he’s going to be tough, and whip you into shape. How are you going to respond to that versus a guy who can come in recognize your talent, and teach you how to win because he’s got experience? 

Just because they are ballplayers, doesn’t mean they lack human emotions. For many, you’re dealing with players who will be on their third manager with the Mets. You’ve got a guy in Jason Bay who came here after playing for Terry Francona. Johan Santana who has played for Gardenhire, Francisco Rodriguez played for Mike Scioscia. Three veterans on this team who have played for arguably three of the top 5 Managers in the sport today. And you want to bring an unproven Manager into the clubhouse? 

What are Wright, Reyes, and Pelfrey going to think? “Here we go again,” sounds good to me. Randolph, Manuel and now Backman. Who’s the winner in this group? They don’t need to be taught how to be ballplayers, they need to be taught how to win the big game. Managing a Single A team to a division title, is a tad bit different than winning a September game in Philadelphia. 

People like to use Backman’s minor league record as a reason to hire him when they’ve got no other good reason. As if winning in the minor leagues meant you’re going to be a good big league Manager? Friends, Jerry Manuel was an over .500 minor league manager, how’d that work out for you? Davey Johnson went 68-66, and 71-68 in his two minor league managerial stints. So he made a good big league manager because of 5 games?

I have no doubt that one day Backman will be a Manager in the big leagues. But, just like the Cubs did, if your #1 reason for hiring a Manager is the uniform he wore as a player, then you need to find another reason. This roster is not built for Wally Backman in my opinion. 

So if I had to pick a potential candidate, who would I pick? For me, I’m going with Clint Hurdle. He’s not a sexy pick like Backman, and he’s not going to make some Mets fans rush to the box office right away. 

He has however proven that he has the ability to get the most out of his players. In 2007, it was his Rockies who shocked the world by winning 14 of their last 15 games, and then defeating San Diego in a 1 game playoff to win the NL Wildcard. 

That team went on to continue to shock the world by beating the Phillies, and then the Diamondbacks (both in sweeps), to head to the World Series. They were swept by a heavily favored Red Sox team, but that team forever left a mark on fans everywhere because now we know, anything can happen in September.

When he was with Colorado, if you take a close look, he really didn’t have very good teams. You can have the greatest Manager in the baseball world at the helm, but if he doesn’t have the players, he’s not going to succeed. When he was fired in 2009, nobody within the Rockies organization seemed to think he had lost anything as a Manager. They needed to shake things up. 

We just saw him as hitting coach for the AL champion Texas Rangers, and now I have to assume he’s a strong candidate for several Managerial positions. 

He’s been here before, playing for the 83 and 85 Mets. As a player he has spent time around managers like Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, and Jim Frey. 

He’s not a flashy Manager, but to me he can light a fire under a team and he appears to be a smart baseball man which fits Alderson’s mold for a Manager as described by he himself. He’s had failures and had successes. He’s clearly well respected by the players he manages, and has proven he can lead his team when their backs are against the wall. 

I’m not sure who the candidates are for sure, and I’m sure Backman will be looked at. To say he’s the only choice is ridiculous, and in my opinion, to say he’s the best choice is wrong.

I believe Clint Hurdle represents everything the Mets need in a Manager right now for the 2011 season and beyond. He’s been around the block a few times, but not to the point where he appears burnt out.

He’s proven to be able to win the big game, and he wouldn’t be coming into the clubhouse with any agenda (ie whip the team into shape,) other than to try and win baseball games.

Plus, he has a personality. He’s not some stiff in a uniform, so added to his ability to manage a big league team, he brings a sense of character to the position that some of us got used to when we didn’t mind Jerry being Jerry.

I’ll leave you with quotes from espn.com following Clint Hurdle’s dismissal from the Rockies in 2009.

“Obviously, he takes the sword for us. He didn’t have any bad at-bats, he didn’t throw any bad pitches. He’s the same manager he was two years ago. So, we realize that ultimately we’re the reason he got fired.” – Todd Helton

“I’ve always been all-in. I’m all-in now. I wish Jim Tracy nothing but good luck, good fortune, good health and success with the ballclub. I wish the players the same.” – Clint Hurdle

“I want all of you to understand and realize that in no way, shape or form will I try to undue anything that this man has done for this organization. Sixteen years to this organization is an eternity in the business today. He’s done some wonderful things.” – Jim Tracy

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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