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Mets Should Hire Backman to Head Player Development



By Mike Silva ~ August 3rd, 2009. Filed under: Mets Minors.

It’s time to move past the stories about former Mets executive Tony Bernazard. The Mets have yet to announce who will take Bernazard’s place and rebuild their farm system. I believe the answer is their former second baseman Wally Backman.

Backman was fired after a year and a half of managing the Joliet Jackhammers in the Independent Northern League. Joliet was headed for its second sub .500 season and management thought a change was needed. Since 2007, Backman has been coaching independent baseball and won a championship in the now defunct South Coast League. When I reached Wally by telephone last week it wasn’t to talk about the failures of his team, or rehash old news, but rather get his thoughts on player development. In February of 2008 I spoke with Wally Backman on my radio show. We talked about his time in the big leagues, why he was fired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and delved into his thoughts on managing a ballclub. Throughout the interview, Backman continued to reiterate his passion for teaching and developing ballplayers at all levels. My goal was to find out more about that passion.

When asked if running an organizations player development would interest him Wally said “I would love to do that, one of my biggest frustrations with independent ball was the focus of winning over development. I would bring guys in that would help us win, but who I also wanted to help get back into affiliated ball. That is not always what ownership wants.” I went on to ask him if working for the Mets would be something of interest to which he responded “I am not lobbying for anyone’s job, you have to understand that, but I love New York and the fans. My heart and soul is still with that team and I believe I have a solid relationship with the organization. There is nowhere else I would rather be and whatever position is open where I could help would be fine with me.”

Backman has wanted to work with the Mets for a long time. Back in 2004, his name was considered for the manager’s job that eventually went to Willie Randolph. Since the Arizona situation, a couple of teams have shown interest, but independent baseball has yielded the only job offers. Despite the lack of opportunity, Backman has been approached by major league scouts and executives to discuss players that he has worked with in winter baseball. One of those players is current Mets catcher Omir Santos who Backman recommended to the organization last year. In a business that is full of politics, Backman worries more about the well being of his players and not his job status.

Players such as Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Dan Uggla, and Aaron Rowand have credited Backman as an asset during their careers. That’s a great start, but after talking to Backman you really get to understand what an intelligent baseball guy he really is. He explained to me that earning the trust of players is something that he has excelled at. That is not an easy accomplishment in today’s baseball world. His focus starts with having players understand the mental toughness necessary to stay at the big league level. “Talent will get you there, says Backman, but managing the game’s mental grind will keep you there.” This reminded me of our original conversation when he told me how he kept asking the Arizona Diamondbacks to show patience with Dan Uggla because he felt he would be a special player. After Backman’s dismissal Uggla was left unprotected in the Rule V draft. The Marlins selected him and I think everyone knows the result.

It’s not just about mental coaching with Backman. He believes that modern strength and conditioning programs should involve more baseball work. “You go out and take 100 groundballs and tell me how your legs feel. I am all for weight lifting, but players need to get more in baseball shape.” I asked him if that off the field conditioning takes away from some of the lack of fundamentals we have seen around the league and he agreed. “Lifting weights is fine, but it won’t help you with situational hitting and knowing how to lay down a bunt.”

Throughout the hour Backman also cited how much he enjoys working with players, both offensively and defensively, something in which he takes particular pride. Backman, unlike some old school baseball coaches, doesn’t discount the modern statistical game, but understands how to apply it appropriately. We discussed knowing what the stats mean in terms of the player, situation, and team concept.

You can hear the passion in his voice when he discusses players that he has helped over the year. What also impressed me was when he made a point about how he tries to talk to his guys about staying out of trouble off the field. Obviously, playing for the Mets in the eighties, Backman would know something about how off the field can impact on the field. As a matter of fact, no player has been involved in an off the field incident under his watch. Backman reiterated that his goal is to manage someday, but right now he burns to win another championship with an organization in any capacity. He knows that he is capable of running a solid farm system for any professional baseball club.

I have talked over the last week about how the Mets need to clean up their organization. Being one of the worst fundamental teams in baseball is not something that I believe Jeff Wilpon finds acceptable. Here is my free advice: Pick up the phone, call Wally Backman, and get him back in the fold. Let him start learning your farm system. Have him work with your players and coaches so he can get a feel of what needs to be done. I say give him the opportunity to rebuild your farm system and have your players get back to working on baseball skills. It would be the first move towards repairing the damage done by Bernazard. Just talk to him and I think you will find out why you will feel the same why I do.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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25 Responses to Mets Should Hire Backman to Head Player Development

  1. LOngTimeFsn

    Mike, wow, we just got rid of Bernazard and his horrible temper and here you want the Mets to hire a man with history of same to replace him? Unbelieveable. It’s take more than passion and baseball knowledge to run the show. It takes a cool hand under pressure and Backman, who repeatedly cannot hold down a job for long, is unfortunately not the guy. He’d be better suited for field manager though even that comes with major leap of faith.

    Absent in your article and praise is any focus on his behavioral issues and whether he’s sufficiently grown and changed and has a body of work to prove it rather than provide lip service. Your infatuation with him makes you very unobjective. Backman’s an excellant baseball man, but what’s holding him back isn’t baseball but is what’s keeping him from being thought of as serious candidate. It’s too bad but Backman has no one to blame but himself

  2. Frank from Jersey

    I think Wally would be a great person to head player development and rebuild the farm system. He deserves a shot. I still wish we would have hired him over Randolf. If we did, we probably would have made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. Not even Earl Weaver could have pulled them through this season though ;)

  3. Dr. Mark

    I read this whole article waiting for Wally’s skeletons to come up, especially since it was the Mets that got skittish back in ’04. Wally reminds me of Davey Johnson, another ‘hot head’ who thrives on developing players. The Mets usually get image conscious after the fact. So it’s more likely they’ll get a company stooge to run the show and not the politically incorrect Backman who will do that job better than anyone else on their radar, if they have one.

    If they can keep Hojo with the big club and watch so many Mets become double play machines (hey, just like him!), they could do worse than have their minor league system run by a driven and proven winner like Wally. I’d love him to get hired and tell the media to stick it about his past. The Mets are so quick to put up the draw bridge for Doc or Gary Carter but they’ll sign Mota after he tests positive for PED’s. How many lower minor league Mets were quietly suspended under Tony B.’s and Omar’s ‘watch’? I know I’m confusing things by getting into THAT discussion but…

    Ugh, OK vent over…maybe I can drive Wally to his anger mgmt meetings & we both can confront our demons. I’m cool with that Jeff, really. Bottomline, would this Met brass hire Davey if they were in charge in the 80′s, despite his gruff, cowboy mentality?

    Nuf said Tonto, MRF 08.03

  4. Anthony M

    The last thing the Mets need to do is hire someone who has no experience in player development management. That is what they got with Bernazard. The Mets need to go to a successful organization and bring in someone. I’d like them to look at Logan white with the Dodgers, Mike Arbuckle with the Royals (he was a big part of the Phillies development) and Dan Jennings with the Marlins (he was part of the Rays management team that drafted Baldelli, Crawford, Huff and Upton).

  5. Happy Jack

    Met player development is akin to Cash for Clunkers. An endless parade of high mileage low performance players that no one wants.

    Wally Backman has managed and developed Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Dan Uggla, Jeremy Reed, Aaron Miles, Miguel Olivo and more… He would be great in player development.

    The only thing holding him back are the NY Mets.

  6. Patrick

    I am sure players said nice things about Tony Bernazard too, in fact despite the presses lust fight with him, I know they did. This is brilliant.

    At some point Met fans need to get over 1986, what with in being over two decades ago.

  7. Nate W.

    I think he would a great choice to bring in as a minor league manager. But I doubt that NY is the place for another first time head of PD. Its a really tough sell given the similarities in Backman’s and Bernazard’s personalities as well.

  8. Paul

    At least give this man a job SOMEWHERE in the organization to start. Jeez, you’d think he raped and pillaged entire villages by the way he’s being shunned across MLB.

    He has a track record of winning, and his players love him, and play hard for him. But apparently, that’s not enough. Ridiculous.

  9. Happy Jack

    Bernazard had success where?

  10. Happy Jack

    “I am sure players said nice things about Tony Bernazard too”

    Perhaps, but not in English

  11. Josh

    He recommended Omir Santos; no thanks.

  12. big baby

    this might be the stupidest thing i’ve ever read

  13. James K.

    So what are the reasons he should head player development again? Besides the fact that you had a couple conversations with him and he’s a nice dude in person?

    I’ve got passion, I’ve got desire, and you can hear it in my voice. I also don’t have a history of DUI’s, financial issues, and temper tantrums, like Backman does. Make ME the VP of player development!

  14. MetsFan

    Crazy Talk about Backman: http://www.metsminorleagueblog.com/2009/08/03/crazy-talk-about-backman/

  15. Pete

    u fire one guy for being a jerk but want to bring a wife beater to replace him??

  16. MaGroin

    THANK YOU Mike for the Backman piece. If only someone/ANYONE from the Mets had the same sense. It’s amazing that these guys somehow made money in business with the sense that they show in running this organization.

  17. Mike Silva

    Pete

    Wally discussed that incident on the show in early 2008. He never hit his wife, but rather, was having an argument and his wife’s friend broke Wally’s arm by hitting him with an object. There is a lot made of mistakes that are a decade old when there is a certain manager in St. Louis that was arrested for a DUI earlier this year.

    I am basing this on Wally’s baseball acumen, not his rap sheet.

  18. Anonymous

    Silva lacks much of a grasp about what the job entails.The guy (Backman)predicted he would wipe up the league (Northern) and doesn’t make it through a full season (last place).It has significance as managers in Indy ball select their own players.I’ll take a pass on his player evaluation skills.

  19. Mike Silva

    I understand what player development is all about. I don’t have to live a “day in the life”. I am in the business world, baseball is no different. Instead of widgets its ballplayers and Backman knows ballplayers.

    The problem is everyone is focused on politics and excuses versus hiring a man that clearly knows the game.

    No one can tell me Backman can’t do the job when Tony Bernazard was in this position for over 4 years. If not for a Daily News story he still would be there.

    At the very least this man should be in the organization coaching or as a roving instructor.

    I am tired of hearing what can’t be done. I want this organization to start hiring baseball people who understand how to teach baseball skills to their players.

    I also think Wally will be able to spot talent in both the draft and international market.

    If some of the ivy leauger’s who run baseball gave the guy a call they may learn the same thing. A phone call and interview is not too much to ask

  20. MetsFan

    Next blog post, Mike Silva wants to lobby for the Mets Player Development (then GM). I can’t wait.

  21. James K.

    Oh God, please no MetsFan!

    Mike, legitimate question – could you elaborate on what you mean when you say “Backman, unlike some old school baseball coaches, doesn’t discount the modern statistical game, but understands how to apply it appropriately. We discussed knowing what the stats mean in terms of the player, situation, and team concept.”

    You made this statement but didn’t provide any examples. Given what I’ve read here about your attitude towards advanced statistics I’m not even sure what this could possibly mean.

  22. Mike Silva

    The piece as too lengthy to get into every detail about Backman’s philosophies. Working on a follow up that hopefully will answer your questions – stay tuned.

  23. Christopher

    For all the merciless comments regarding his skeletons: you would all cry yourselves to sleep, alone, if you had to endure journalistic investigations into your lives. No one has an unblemished past. Let’s talk about his credentials… and there are many to offer. He’s a proven winner, he has a positive Mets legacy, he has real experience running minor-league clubs organized and indie, and he’s interested.

    So he doesn’t have experience in player development, specifically, now… so what? *SOMEONE* gets their first shot somewhere, at some point, and he’s clearly got enough baseball experience to make the leap, which some have made into a canyon when it’s clearly just a crack in the sidewalk. He can do it, and I’d be happy to see him try.

    Put another way, if you were a AA player, who would you rather speak with, Tony who never did anything, or Wally Friggin’ Backman, who won it all?

    -C

  24. Gary

    The Mets will never hire a winner like Wally Backman because he doesn’t seem to have the political correctness that this organization requires. As far as the wife beating which I do not know is true or not, it should not have any bearing affect on whether or not he should be hired in a baseball capacity. if it did where would the Braves have been all those years without Bobby Cox

  25. Happy Jack

    What I understand is that Wally was hit with a baseball bat by a friend of his wife. Hardly “wife beating” more like Wally beating, which judging from some of these comments is not a crime.

    When the Met organization went Los Mets, they Lost Me. They have no class, no direction, no history and no interest in their fans. It is all about the pretense of political correctness and what color the next trinket will be. A fan does not have to be sold on their team. You don’t buy the cereal for the prize inside the box.

    Imagine just across the river a team plays in the same home and away uniforms they have played in forever. No names on the back, no desecration on the front. In a stadium that salutes their own history. No black, no blue, no shrines to the NY Giants. A Yankee as the Yankee manager, imagine that.

    If you won’t hire a Wally Backman now, what Met will ever be welcomed back? Timo Perez? Mo Vaughn? Robby Alomar? Maybe Bobby Bonilla…. Los Mets have about as much history as the Seattle Pilots and all the SNY productions aren’t going to change that. Wally Backman would. Hire him.

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