Whether Wally Backman chose to resign Monday or actually was fired as manager at Triple-A Las Vegas is the kind of political football we like to kick around for palace intrigue. Anything involving a 1986 Met, be it Doc, Darryl, Nails or Mookie, is a needle-mover, and Backman, for the stardust residue of that title, was a talk-radio favorite for the top job in Flushing every time Terry Col lins had a bad few weeks.
But Backman was a carry-over from a different administration, first hired under Omar Minaya’s tenure in 2009 to lead the Cyclones, the Mets’ Class A affiliate. For Minaya’s replacement, Sandy Alderson, Backman was nothing more than a legacy, a crusty leftover from Shea, and almost as difficult to get rid of as the Home Run Apple.
As it turns out all these years later, Coney Island was as close as Backman ever got to a Queens homecoming, and for the nostalgic among us, maybe that is a Mets tragedy. But the fact that he’s finally out in Vegas, free to look elsewhere for work, shouldn’t come as a surprise, least of all to Backman himself.
During the 2013 season, with Collins going through one of his annual tightrope walks, we asked a person with knowledge of the situation if Backman could be summoned from Vegas to replace the embattled manager. It didn’t seem like such a stretch. Not only was Backman considered a smart baseball man with a gritty throwback charm, but his hiring would coax the fan base to put down their pitchforks.
The response, however, was firm and without room for interpretation. “There’s zero chance of that happening,” the person said at the time. “Zero.”
OK, then. The Mets’ view of Backman really hasn’t changed one iota since that conversation, and what went down Monday was how this always was destined to go once either side ran out of an appetite for it.
Backman, 56, clearly believes he should be managing or coaching in the majors by now, and if that’s the case, there are 29 other teams to try. The Mets were the only club to offer him a job when the Diamondbacks kicked him out after only four days in the manager’s seat — the blowback from his previously undisclosed domestic-abuse arrest. And that was long before Alderson took over, so this general manager probably feels as if he’s fulfilled his obligation.
“We’re very pleased with the work he did and wish him the best of luck,” Alderson said before Monday night’s loss to the Nationals. “As I’ve said, we had a lot of players come through there and improve and establish themselves at the major-league level.”
Left unsaid is that plenty of managers also develop down on the farm and Backman never envisioned an indefinite stay in PCL limbo, lording over Cashman Field in the middle of the desert. Backman is 11 years younger than Collins, and if he’s serious about being in the bigs again, it’s best to get moving in that direction. Alderson and company never intended to give him that opportunity, so there’s no point in carrying on the relationship. Divorce seemed like the only way to go.
The question now becomes whether another team, with little use for the ’86 drawing power, will hire Backman, who doesn’t appear to match the profile of this next generation of managers. Teams tend to be going more for either front office-pleasing company men, comfortable with statistical analysis, or the higher-profile resumes of guys such as Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon or even Don Mattingly.
Backman doesn’t neatly fit in those categories. He has the beloved scrappy persona that was celebrated with the Mets and two decades of managing in the minors, at every level. During his seven-year tenure in the Mets’ organization, however, no team has asked for permission to interview Backman, according to a source, and his window could be closing fast, if it hasn’t already closed.
After Monday, Backman no longer needs Alderson’s OK, and it will be interesting to see if he can buck baseball’s current trend.
It was a better story if it happened someday in Flushing. Now it comes off as a bitter one, unfortunately.