Wally Backman is back where he wanted to be all along — the New York market. Backman, a member of the 1986 world champion Mets and a long-time manager in the Mets minor league system, will manage the Ducks of the independent Atlantic League next season, the team announced Wednesday morning.
“I’m excited about it,” Backman, 59, said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I’m back in my old stomping grounds. I’ve always showed my interest in being in the New York area and, with this opportunity coming available, I thought it was a great opportunity to be back where I really wanted to be, and that was New York.”
Backman played for the Mets from 1980-1988, hitting .283 with seven home runs and 165 RBIs. He coached in the Mets minor league system from 2009-16, managing at all three levels. His time with the organization ended in 2016, resulting in a public dispute regarding the nature of his departure.
Backman said he would still like to manage in the major leagues someday but is completely focused on the Ducks and bringing another championship to Central Islip.
“I’ve faced some obstacles, there’s no question,” Backman said of managing in the big leagues. “But, that is my goal. And, I’ll say this – my focus for this year is 100 percent on the Ducks. I’d like to get back to the big leagues at some point in time, but I just signed a contract with the Long Island Ducks and they’re going to get 100 percent of Wally Backman.”
Backman succeeds Kevin Baez, who managed the team for the last eight seasons. Baez is the winningest manager in Ducks history and signed with the Rockland Boulders of the independent Can-Am League earlier this week.
“I think [Backman] is a fantastic fit,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said. “He’s a winner. He’s got great ties to the Long Island and New York market. The fans here are very familiar with Wally. Everyone is very aware of the intensity he brings to the ballpark every night. I think he’ll be someone who helps bring us over the top to help capture a championship in 2019.”
Backman is the sixth manager in the Ducks 20-year history and is the fourth former Met to manage the team — joining Bud Harrelson, Gary Carter, and Baez. Harrelson, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease, is a part owner of the Ducks and still works with the team during home games.
“It’ll be huge,” Backman said of having Harrelson around. “We reconnected last year when I was coming to town with New Britain. Buddy and I have a long history. I wish Buddy the best and I hope he’s out there every day with us.”
New Britain played well under Backman last season. They finished two games behind the Somerset Patriots for the Liberty Division first-half title. The Bees finished the season 61-65, but many of those loses came in the second half after key players had been signed by major league affiliates or other professional leagues.
Backman joins a Ducks organization that has had nearly constant success for the better part of the last decade. The Ducks have made the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, won Atlantic League championships in 2012 and 2013 and have made the Atlantic League Championship Series in each of the last three seasons — including fighting back from an 2-0 deficit before losing in the fifth and final game last season.
“Knowing that you’re coming to an organization that really wants to win and will do just about everything to try and help you be able to accomplish that is huge,” Backman said. “I hope that I’m one of the ingredients to help put us over the top and help us win a championship.”