Wally Backman

Hire Wally Backman! He tries to win!


Interesting conversation in the comment thread to yesterday’s post about how much impact a manager has on team performance.  In response to a commenter who asked if I thought managers had absolutely no affect, I said, no, I thought that managers are ultimately limited on the top end by the talent on their team, but that they can do harm by not using their resources optimally, pursuing short-sighted, one-run strategies when they’re not called for and by creating dissension in the clubhouse.  All of this, mind you, was set against the backdrop of the Wally Backman situation, so I was not terribly surprised when I received this comment in response:

I hope all the other candidates lead with “My view of it is that while managers can’t really help too much on the top end, they can certainly do harm” That should seal the deal for Wally, he simply tries to win and does.

Which pretty much encapsulates the Backman lobby.  “Hire Wally because he’s a winner!” they cry.  To which I respond:  name me one manager who doesn’t “try to win.”  They all try to win. If you ask them what their job is, they’ll say that they try to win. Yet, somehow — amazingly! — there are still bad and unsuccessful managers out there.

Which means that the measure of a managerial candidate, in my view, isn’t solely how badly he wants to win. It’s about whether he’s aware of what a manager can and can’t control in doing so.  A guy who is aware of his limitations and his team’s limitations — and strengths, of course — and who doesn’t assume he can win by force of will.  The only guy I can even think of who came close to simply willing his team to victory, talent limitations be damned — was Billy Martin. And he wore out his welcome everywhere he went due to being a near-psychopath, by burning out pitchers’ arms and by alienating the players on his team that he needed to help him win over the long term.

None of which, I must add, I can say describes Wally Backman.  I have no reason to believe that he thinks he can rah-rah his way to the World Series.  Indeed, my guess is that Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have given him a second interview if he gave off such an impression.  For all I know, Wally Backman is the most centered, thoughtful managerial candidate in the slate the Mets are considering, and would be, if hired, a revelation.  I haven’t spoken to the man, nor have I heard him speak on such matters.

But neither have the Backman backers, and basically the only thing I hear them citing in Backman’s favor is their perception that Backman is “a winner.”  That he has passion and fire and all of that.  That stuff alone isn’t enough, and taken too far is probably counterproductive to a team’s long-term health.

If Backman gets the Mets’ job it will not be because he has impressed Sandy Alderson that “he tries to win and does.”  That should be assumed. It will be because he has shown himself to be a well-rounded candidate, aware of his strengths and his weaknesses, and willing to work within the framework of  both of those things, the roster provided and the front office’s philosophy in order to steer the Mets towards winning baseball.

In other news, I hope Alderson chooses someone soon, because I don’t think I can handle five Wally Backman stories every single day.

Theo Epstein on sportswriters: “The life of a sportswriter is pretty lonely. You kind of work by yourself, sit there by yourself…”

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 07:  Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein stands on the field during batting practice before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on October 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Rick Morissey of the Chicago Sun-Times published an article on Sunday giving a bit of insight into Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. When Epsten was younger, he dabbled in sportswriting, but quickly realized the trade wasn’t for him.

As Morissey details, when Epstein was 19 years old writing for Yale’s student newspaper, he wrote an article suggesting the school’s football coach should be fired during what would become a 3-7 season. Epstein was told during the meeting that one writer would defend the coach and one would call for his job. “It was a lesson in the way that the world of journalism sometimes works. It was an eye-opener for me. I regret it, and I’ve happily moved on.”

Epstein continued, “I realized I didn’t want to be a sportswriter when I was interning with the Orioles back in ’92, ’93, ’94. I did do a lot of media-relations stuff, and I saw that the life of a sportswriter is pretty lonely. You kind of work by yourself, sit there by yourself in the press box, go back to the hotel bar. Not to generalize.” He added, “But I really respect writing and respect sportswriters.”

He’s not wrong, and he seems to have found his calling as a front office executive. His Cubs are back in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Jason Kipnis injured his ankle celebrating the pennant with Francisco Lindor

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Jose Ramirez #11, Francisco Lindor #12, Jason Kipnis #22 and Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays with a score of 4 to 2 in game three of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis tweeted on Sunday, “Got a little too close to [Francisco Lindor] during the celebration!! Freak accident but should be good to go by Tuesday! #cantkeepmeoutofthisgame!”

Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, manager Terry Francona said Kipnis is dealing with a low ankle sprain, but he’s expected to be ready to go when the World Series begins on Tuesday. Kipnis went through fielding drills on Sunday.

Kipnis is hitting .167/.219/.367 with a pair of homers and four RBI in eight games this postseason.