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Oh good, New York sportswriters are stumping for Wally Backman again

Sep 4, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT

Wally Backman, Tim Teufel

The idea that Wally Backman is the cure for everything that ills the New York Mets is one of the New York pres corps strongest convinctions. They believe that he’s entitled to manage the Mets and that the fact that he hasn’t been granted that right yet is evidence that he has been blackballed and otherwise treated unfairly by Sandy Alderson and the Mets.

They’ve believed this for years. They believe that if only he were given a chance he’d lead the Mets to glory. And that there is some sort of conspiracy to keep him down. The latest example of this comes in Bob Klapisch’s pro-Backman column today:

You couldn’t help but wonder how Sandy Alderson really felt about Wally Backman winning the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year award, considering the GM has shown no intention of giving Backman a chance in New York. It’s time to reconsider this de facto blackball, and see Backman as an asset who can help the Mets ascend toward respectability.

Of course, this would require Alderson shedding his prejudice against the very trait that makes Backman unique: He’s an independent thinker with a strong personality, as old-school as it gets. Alderson is a dominant GM who values managers that act as corporate messengers.

See, it’s not just Alderson who thinks that, though. If you look around baseball, the dominant view these days is that managers are subordinate to the GM and their job is to be a company man. To carry out the wishes of the baseball operations department and create as little controversy and provide as little color as possible. Maybe that’s not a great idea. Maybe the old model of hiring Billy Martin-types will one day be shown to be better. But that’s not what’s happening in baseball now, so to claim that Alderson has some unique and regrettable grudge here is simply wrong. Hiring independent thinkers with strong personalities is the exception in baseball these days, not the rule.

You know who likes independent thinkers and strong personalities? Sports writers. Especially sports writers who have spent several decades covering the independent thinker because it means they’ll get great quotes and access to the independent thinker. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with the support Backman gets.

As for Backman himself? I have no idea how he’d do as a manager. Maybe he’d be fine. But when he wasn’t hired several years ago he was not some wronged man. He had no high level managing experience and he had a spotty off-the-field history that involved him being dishonest with the one team — the Diamondbacks — who hired him to manage in the bigs. Maybe Kalpisch is right when he argues that Backman has served his sentence for all of that, but he knows more than anyone that people in baseball do not forget such things. That baseball is a conservative institution in which people in front offices are rarely rewarded for taking chances like that.

That being said, 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. Backman is nothing special in this regard. No matter what people who really, really like him say to the contrary.

  1. drewsylvania - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    They “believe” whatever their boss tells them to believe. It’s corporate media. You know this.

  2. gammagammahey - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    The notion that PCL Manager of the Year should mean something as far as being a managerial prospect is absurd too. In the last twenty years the only managers who’ve won that award and gone on to manage in the bigs are Brad Mills and Ryne Sandberg.

    • sliderhi - Sep 6, 2014 at 2:14 AM

      Given the length of a good manager’s career, twenty years is a bit of an arbitrary cut off, no?

      Extending it out a few more years reveals that your 20 year cut off leaves out guys like Terry Collins, Mike Hargrove and Charlie Manuel.

      Honorable mention to 2009 winner Tim Wallach, who has gotten good reviews and a few interviews for the last round of MLB managerial openings. I expect his name will pop up once the dust settles and we see how many other jobs open up besides HOU and TEX.

  3. bolweevils2 - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    I actually think Terry Collins is mostly fine as a manager. My only quibble is that when he gets a reliever pitching well, he tends to pitch that guy virtually every day until he’s worn out and no longer effective.

    But you could say the same thing about almost any manager, so all in all I’d be fine with them keeping Collins.

    • neoshweaty - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      Terry Collins has done well with the hand that was dealt to him. The Wilpons clearly are still hurting after the Madoff mess because they arent shelling out money for FAs like a team in a market like New York should. Not that they have to spend money but they should be spending a bit more money to make the team go from bad to not so bad while the farm develops. So what Terry’s had at his disposal are old retreads, past their primes, AAAA guys, prospects that are going to be more bad than good at first and then some refreshing surprises every now and again (Marlon Byrd, Jacob deGrom, etc). The Mets aren’t going to contend until at least next year and even then it would be dependent on several things going right with the youth on the team plus the wilpons opening up their wallets again if they can. Another manager wouldn’t have changed any of this.

      Maybe Backman is a great manager but a great manager can’t assemble a roster or play the game for the players he is managing.

      • rayswhitesuit - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        The interesting thing about your point is that, across town, the Yankees have much more money to spend and they have an even bigger collection of retreads and past their primes.My gripe with the Mets is not that they haven’t spent enough, they haven’t spent wisely. Chris Young, really? A nice guy, sure, but what difference was he really going to make this year? Why not give that job to a young player, or even several young players? The Mets DO have a bunch of OF prospects they need to evaluate on the MLB level. And I’m not so sure Granderson was a good idea, either, though I do appreciate a guy like that in the clubhouse with all these young players.

        By the way, Chris Young is now with- you guessed it- the Yankees.

      • neoshweaty - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        You’re right, rayswhitesuit. I watch almost every met game. I watched way too many Chris Young at bats.

        It’s also true that the mets have bats in the minors that need to be showcased if only for trade value. I was also being more of a pessimist in that post than I actually am.

        I’ve loved a bunch of the mets moves and prospects lately. Taking Wheeler from the Giants for a rental of Beltran, Selling at the absolute peak of both R.A. Dickey (even if I LOVED his time with the team) and Marlon Byrd, taking a chance on Byrd in the first place, and a few others.

        Lagares is a revelation in center, D’Arnaud has really been knocking the crap out of the ball since he was called up from AAA, Wheeler looks like he could be a key cog (still need to see more consistency with his control but he’s headed in the right direction), Harvey is coming back, Dilson Herrera shows promise for a 20 year old, the Duda abiding, the back end of the pen with Black, Mejia, and Familia with Parnell returning and I’m not even including how excited I am to see Noah Syndergaard’s promotion to the MLB club.

        The future is brighter than ever in Flushing. We’ll see what becomes of the promise. I don’t think Terry Collins is going to be managing the next contending mets team, however. I just don’t think a different manager would have been able to do much more.

  4. buddaley - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I think there is a difference between being a “company man” and being hired because he agrees with the approach of the GM. Naturally, a GM, who is building the roster, is going to want a manager who recognizes the logic behind that roster and who knows best how to utilize the elements of it. A GM who is enamored of progressive analysis will not want an “old school” manager who ignores the statistics the front office provides him.

    That is not the same as saying that the manager is a puppet or that he is simply following orders. In a well-run organization, he probably has input into roster building and into the best use of data and also probably has the trust of his GM to make decisions independently. The sharing of information and ideas should run both ways, and a good GM would rely on the manager’s field experience to help him decide on deals just as the manager would rely on the GM’s access to other information to help him develop his tactics.

    Purely top down hierarchies tend to ossify while a disconnect between management and field approaches usually leads to chaos.

    • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      Well said. The important aspect is that everyone believes in the same philosophy and that open communication helps to improve the efficacy of the organization.

      The fact is that having a manager that is not on board with the organizational philosophy can undo the hard work of the rest of the organization. You can’t build a talent base in an organization with one philosophy in mind and have a manager that has a complete opposite view that undoes much the work of scouts, coaches, and everyone in player development. That is just an inefficient way to run an organization.

    • Gamera the Brave - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      Props for being one of the few to use “enamored of” correctly, rather than “enamored with”.

  5. sdelmonte - Sep 4, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    Really, the question is more “Why keep Backman around at Vegas if he’s not a company man?” If an organization has a set philosophy, shouldn’t it be in place at all levels?

    That said, I know that Travis d’Arnaud went to Vegas last spring a bad hitter and turned into a pretty good one. Someone there did a good job. Which isn’t to say that someone deserves a promotion. I am not really much on Backman, and think that the people pushing for him are just ’86 nostalgists.

    There is, however, a stream of thought Collins should be replaced as he’s reached his maximum level of effectiveness and isn’t the man to take the Mets to the next step. I don’t agree, but it’s a cogent argument. I also do wonder about the future of Alderson. He’s great at turning tradeable players into assets. And hasn’t really as good finding value on the free agent market.

    • Reflex - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:00 PM

      As a counter to d’Arnaud I will point out that Ike Davis was also sent down, hit well at AAA, came up and still couldn’t hit. Lots of guys get sent down to find their stroke, some do and some do not. There is little evidence that Backman is any better at helping that out than any other AAA manager.

  6. eshine76 - Sep 4, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    If what Klapisch says is true, why is Backman with the organization? Why have him coach AAA instead of low-A ball? Since Backman is such a great manager, surely someone would scoop him up the minute he becomes available. Alderson obviously sees value in having him in the organization, so I don’t understand why Klapisch needs to best this drum. Honestly, how many more wins does he think Wally could get out of this roster?

  7. asimonetti88 - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    It probably has something to do with his name being Wally… there’s just something about having a Wally around that makes everything better..

    • Kevin S. - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      Wally Matthews thanks you for justifying his continuing employment.

  8. thebadguyswon - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    C’mon Craig. What exactly would be wrong with Backman instead of Collins? The Mets might win more games? Bottom line – Backman wins wherever he goes. Collins does not.

    How is that a negative?

    Unless maybe the Mets continuing to lose would benefit a Braves fan…

    • staticovedub - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I happen to be very warm whenever I step outside.

      Is it a result of my being sensitive to heat, or because I live in Alabama?

  9. conjecture101 - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    The likelihood is that neither Collins nor Backman is the answer.

  10. gbart22 - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Okay to be fair I didn’t remember the Arizona backman deal from 2004 I think it was so I went and looked it up. They cited his bankruptcy as a reason not to hire him and as well as his DUI and misdemeanor. The bankruptcy thing really confused as what business are your personal finances to your employer and really how does that reflect in anyway on his ability to manage? Made no sense. The misdemeanor and DUI while bad not earth shattering especially when you consider coaches and players who’ve done worse and still continue to play. Was it his fault or the diamondbacks for not doing a background check before hiring him?

    Now for the sportswriters they are just feeding off the undercurrent of the fan base who desperately want Wally for no other reason than he was on that ’86 team and they are nostalgic for those days. You find the cries for backman mostly amongst the 36 and up crowd which is primarily baseballs demographic these days. For those of us who were born in 86 or later we have no deep affection for Wally and I find myself constantly arguing with the older mets fans about Wally. The writers can’t lose by advocating for him because it’s what the fans want so they ingratiate themselves to the people most likely to be reading their articles and it feeds off the frustration of the mets fans plus as a bonus if it does come to fruition they get somebody as you pointed out that will give them headlines and make their jobs more worth while.

    Btw not everybody is advocating for backman. Your favorite mr Francesa is always arguing the counter point of why Wally?

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      The bankruptcy thing really confused as what business are your personal finances to your employer and really how does that reflect in anyway on his ability to manage?

      He filed bankruptcy to avoid paying off over 20 creditors (per wikipedia). That’s problematic in multiple ways. The biggest is, if this guy has major financial issues, will someone try to take advantage of him (gambling?) when he finally gets money? Other issues arise like “if this guy can’t manage his money, how can he handle the pressure/ego of multi-million dollar athletes?”

      He also apparently lied to his employer (again per wikipedia), which usually doesn’t go over well with your boss(es).

  11. gbart22 - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Also I have zero idea what the fans really expected Collins to do with this roster as constituted. He was given a bad team and has been given a bad team since he got here. Alderson has bargain basement shopped since he got here and has traded away everyone who was technically any good to further the rebuild outside of wright. I mean they are now talking of getting rid of Murphy arguably one of the teams best offensive players when this team can’t score as it is. Duda, who knows what he is? Is this an aberration or has he figured it out and will produce like this for the next few years? People seem to forget Davis did this same exact deal a few years ago so I don’t want to get to high until I see him do it again. The mets sucks and they were always only going to win 70-80 games and so how can we fault Collins?

    • thebadguyswon - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      Well….to start, we can fault him for changing the lineup just about every single day this year. Next, we can fault him for overusing his bullpen in the early part of the season every year. Then, we can fault him for his insistance on playing Ruben Tejada over Wilmer Flores, despite the former being the inferior player. We can also fault Terry for playing favorites like he did last year with Justin Turner, a marginal player who gets exposed with regular playing time. Next, we can fault Terry for his track record as a manager, which consists of losing stacked upon losing, with a player mutiny sandwiched in between. Finally, we can fault him for his teams ALWAYS performing under their pythagorean projection. The manager plays a part in that when it happens every single year. His in-game decisions are poorly thought-out more often than not.

      Terry Collins seems like a good person. He really does. When you hear him speak he seems like a genuine guy who is trying. But he’s ill equipped to manage a major league team. He’s much better as a roving farm instructor.

      All this said, I realize Alderson will never hire Backman. But I don’t think the NY media asking the question is a bad thing.

  12. antelope850 - Sep 4, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    I don’t understand Craig’s obsession with suggestions that Wally Blackman should manage the mets. He did this a few years ago when Collins was hired and Backman was a candidate. There are guys who became managers after not managing at all at any level – former players who got big league managing jobs right from the broadcast booth. Guys who got managing jobs after never managing in the minors. Backman is a former player, a guy who has been highly successful in the minors, who players say love to play for him, who a lot of mets fans and writers have though for a long time has what it takes to be a big league manager. And now he’s managed at the highest levels of the minors, which was a Craig complaint when this came up a few years ago. It’s not nuts for people to suggest he might be a very good major league manager, and specifically that he might be the best choice to manage the mets. Especially now that the mets have very good young pitching and some potential to turn things around. The bigger question to me is, why is Craig so insistent on trying to show how it’s somehow a bizarre suggestion.

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