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Hire Wally Backman! He tries to win!

Nov 12, 2010, 8:31 AM EDT

Wally Backman

Interesting conversation in the comment thread to yesterday’s post about how much impact a manager has on team performance.  In response to a commenter who asked if I thought managers had absolutely no affect, I said, no, I thought that managers are ultimately limited on the top end by the talent on their team, but that they can do harm by not using their resources optimally, pursuing short-sighted, one-run strategies when they’re not called for and by creating dissension in the clubhouse.  All of this, mind you, was set against the backdrop of the Wally Backman situation, so I was not terribly surprised when I received this comment in response:

I hope all the other candidates lead with “My view of it is that while managers can’t really help too much on the top end, they can certainly do harm” That should seal the deal for Wally, he simply tries to win and does.

Which pretty much encapsulates the Backman lobby.  “Hire Wally because he’s a winner!” they cry.  To which I respond:  name me one manager who doesn’t “try to win.”  They all try to win. If you ask them what their job is, they’ll say that they try to win. Yet, somehow — amazingly! — there are still bad and unsuccessful managers out there.

Which means that the measure of a managerial candidate, in my view, isn’t solely how badly he wants to win. It’s about whether he’s aware of what a manager can and can’t control in doing so.  A guy who is aware of his limitations and his team’s limitations — and strengths, of course — and who doesn’t assume he can win by force of will.  The only guy I can even think of who came close to simply willing his team to victory, talent limitations be damned — was Billy Martin. And he wore out his welcome everywhere he went due to being a near-psychopath, by burning out pitchers’ arms and by alienating the players on his team that he needed to help him win over the long term.

None of which, I must add, I can say describes Wally Backman.  I have no reason to believe that he thinks he can rah-rah his way to the World Series.  Indeed, my guess is that Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have given him a second interview if he gave off such an impression.  For all I know, Wally Backman is the most centered, thoughtful managerial candidate in the slate the Mets are considering, and would be, if hired, a revelation.  I haven’t spoken to the man, nor have I heard him speak on such matters.

But neither have the Backman backers, and basically the only thing I hear them citing in Backman’s favor is their perception that Backman is “a winner.”  That he has passion and fire and all of that.  That stuff alone isn’t enough, and taken too far is probably counterproductive to a team’s long-term health.

If Backman gets the Mets’ job it will not be because he has impressed Sandy Alderson that “he tries to win and does.”  That should be assumed. It will be because he has shown himself to be a well-rounded candidate, aware of his strengths and his weaknesses, and willing to work within the framework of  both of those things, the roster provided and the front office’s philosophy in order to steer the Mets towards winning baseball.

In other news, I hope Alderson chooses someone soon, because I don’t think I can handle five Wally Backman stories every single day.

  1. rmalmstrom - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    If Backman does get hired, please continue to use this picture.

  2. bigleagues - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Well, I have met Backman. Still has nothing to do with whether or not he’s a solid candidate for the job. His reputation prior to the Arizona debacle was that of a rising star with a high baseball IQ and the recognition and ability required to put the right player in the right spot to succeed. And yes, he can be fiery. So was Sparky Anderson. So what? Ozzie Guillen is pretty fiery and unpredictable in a baseball sense. Overall, I think Ozzie has done pretty well.

    And the response towards you isn’t so much a rejection of advanced metrics as it is the elite mentality that seemingly pervades your new micro-industry’s personalities. Such a mentality gets exposed when you appear on shows hosted by people who take themselves less serious than you, more tongue in cheek, then you immediately turn to your blog and whine about your horrifying experience. Puh-lease.

    Now, is it better for you, personally, your career, to be on a national sports talk show speaking to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of listeners? Or is it better for you to be on a 10,000 Watt speaking to a few hundred people at a time.

    You may not known of Dino before a few days ago, but I can assure, a whole lot more people know about you – and most of them didn’t become fans.

    As for me, I tend to believe people can eventually put aside their differences and still co-exist. Sometimes a healthy serving of humble pie is needed to aid in digestion, especially when its you that needs to reach out and be meek and apologetic.

    In the end, however, many will have regained respect of you as a good humored individual.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:22 AM

      Based on this comment and your comments in the other thread, I can only assume that you either are Dino Costa or his biggest fan. Or his mom.

      But whatever the case, I don’t have much interest in “gaining the respect” of a radio host who misrepresents my views in order to create a confrontation, and then when he realizes that there is no basis for the confrontation, decides to scream, whine and yell.

      But hey, I’m not the one begging that he change. You’re the one begging that I change. Who’s more comfortable with who they are and what they do? Costa, or me?

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:46 AM

      Wow, you are super delusional.

      “As for me, I tend to believe people can eventually put aside their differences and still co-exist. Sometimes a healthy serving of humble pie is needed to aid in digestion, especially when its you that needs to reach out and be meek and apologetic.”

      Even if Craig was wrong, which he’s not. His points are totally valid. His matter of opinion should never, ever be apologized for. I mean if your opinion on this matter differs because you like the color of socks Bachman wears, it would take a super egomaniac to demand you apologize for it. Not to mention demand it be done “meekly”. You, whoever you are should revisit your entire way of thinking at this point. You also more than likely have a huge number of people you should apologize to if this is how you actually go about your life.

  3. happyjack62 - Nov 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    If not Backman, I would go with a cardboard cut out of Bob Melvin, cheaper and just as effective. We can make up the line by who shows up first, second and so on. I mean, what’s the difference?

    • tomemos - Nov 12, 2010 at 12:04 PM

      Happyjack, here’s a question for you. You keep saying (3 days now I think) that Backman’s candidacy is important because if he is a successful manager it would show that “managers do matter.” If the manager is someone other than Backman, and the Mets win, would that not also show that managers matter, by that standard? Or if it’s Backman and the Mets lose, would *that* not show that managers matter? What is it about Backman and winning that would be so definitive, where somehow over 150 years of baseball we haven’t been able to establish whether managers matter?

      • happyjack62 - Nov 12, 2010 at 12:22 PM

        Of the supposed final 4, two have already failed spectaculary ot the Major League level. The other Hale has far less actual experience than Backman. Yet there are Wally detractors fraught with anxiety that he might get the job. Wally backers claim he’s the guy because he wins at every level, his players would “run through a brink wall for him” he is comfortable in the glare of NY, he was MLB ready in 2004, he has so much more experience than Davey Johnson had, etc. But it seems that his detractors think that it would be better to have anyone but Wally Backman. But why? With the exception of a few who note the Terry Collins clubhouse meltdown no one really critiques the competition. Someone even noted that Wally’s 3 hour interview was “not really that long” yet no one has reported how long any other interview was.

      • tomemos - Nov 12, 2010 at 12:55 PM

        Pardon me if I’m being dense, but I have no idea how that’s supposed to answer my question, even though you hit “reply” and so probably meant to respond to me. So I’ll try again: if it’s Backman and he fails, will it mean that managers don’t matter after all? Or will it mean that they *do* matter and that Backman was a disaster? Or if it’s someone other than Backman and the Mets win, how will that affect your views of how much managers matter?

        While I’m here, I might as well respond to your non-response and note that Backman hasn’t failed at the Major League level because he’s never managed at the Major League level, or even the AAA level. If you were a Yankee fan in 1996 (blasphemy, I know), you probably would have revolted at the idea of hiring Torre, since he had also not found much success at the major league level. The hypothesis is that even failed major league managing experience *is still major league managing experience.*

  4. sdelmonte - Nov 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    Gotta wonder, did Jerry Manuel try to lose? Or Art Howe? Or George Bamberger?

    • hackerjay - Nov 12, 2010 at 12:36 PM

      Maybe Manuel.

      • Old Gator - Nov 12, 2010 at 2:04 PM

        Oh, I don’t think it was a matter of Manuel trying to lose. I think it was a matter of the backstabbling son of a bitch deserving to lose, and his little gaggle of overpaid prima donnas – who turned on him in the end, appropriately enough – deserving to lose along with him.

    • fightoffyourdemons - Nov 12, 2010 at 3:29 PM

      It certainly looked like Manuel was trying to lose sometimes.

  5. mvd513 - Nov 14, 2010 at 3:29 AM

    He’s ugly, and therefore perfect for the Mets.

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