Only Wally Backman could be accused of getting thrown out of a game before the season has even begun.
As Backman waited to get started as manager of the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, who open their season tonight with a visit to the Staten Island Yankees, the former Met became an Internet celebrity for an on-field tirade that many people mistakenly believed occurred this month.
Actually, it was 2007, when Backman was manager of the independent South Georgia Peanuts. The recently released video, which is part of a documentary, was a Web sensation for a couple of days. He laughs about it now, but he obviously was furious that day, when an argument with an umpire escalated into his dumping bats and balls onto the field.
What's lost amid the tempest, however, was that Backman's fuse was lit after he came to the defense of one of his players. That's something he describes as the foundation of any success he's had as a manager.
Given Backman's tumultuous past, the Mets will watch him closely in Brooklyn, the pride of the team's farm system. But he promises to lead the Cyclones with the same fire that made him a beloved figure on the Mets' immortal '86 squad and that he's shown at every level since then.
"I'm not going to say that I'm going to change," he said this week in a telephone interview. "Most of the time, you're protecting your players. Am I going to throw bats and balls? No, I'm not going to do that kind of stuff. People perceive me in different ways. Have I got thrown out of games? Absolutely. Am I still going to get thrown out of games? Without a question.
"But 99 percent of the time, it's protecting your players. They know that if something happens, I've got their back, I'm very capable of yelling and screaming at an umpire and getting thrown out of a game, but it's over with just as fast. Very, very seldom will you see me get thrown out of a game without a player being ejected first."
For Backman, it's all about the bond between the manager and his team, a philosophy that the Braves' Bobby Cox used as the glue for 14 straight division titles.
Cox's players - past and present - always speak glowingly of him, and Backman seems to make a similar impact. The Marlins' Dan Uggla, who played under Backman for Class A Lancaster, told ESPNNewYork.com that he "would have run through a brick wall for him." But in building that communication, especially at the lower levels, there's a lot of tough love involved, too.
"I try to earn the trust of my players," Backman said. "I'm going to get -- off when we lose, but I don't take it to any extreme. There's times when I'm going to chew some butt once in a while, and it's all for a good reason. I'm not going to yell and scream just because we lost a game. It really depends on how they go about their business. And they learn pretty quickly what my expectations are."
The Mets' expectations for Backman aren't as clearly defined. When he was hired in November, his name was added to the list of possible replacements for Jerry Manuel, who is in the final year of his contract. But club officials insisted they would not consider such a move before Backman completes a full year with Brooklyn - sort of a probationary period. And with the recent surge under Manuel, there's no longer a pressing need for candidates to replace him.
In the meantime, Backman will focus on his two primary goals for the Cyclones: development and, above all else, winning.
"One of the things that I do is I take losses personally," Backman said. "And I try to instill that in my players: take it personal. This is your job. You're paid X amount of dollars to do whatever you can do, and I expect at least 100 percent on the field. I think the only reason you play a professional sport is to win a championship. And if you look at it any other way, that's not the guy I want playing for me."