Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Wally Backman is leaving the Mets organization


Normally it’s not a big deal when a Triple-A manager leaves an organization. But Wally Backman — whom Sandy Alderson just said was leaving the Mets organization — is no ordinary minor league manager and the Mets no ordinary organization. At least when it comes to this stuff.

Backman, a member of the 1986 World Series champion Mets, has been with the Mets as a minor league manager since 2010. For much of that time, he was a favorite of fans and many in the media to become the Mets major league manager. The reasons for this tended to be bound up in nostalgia and personal relationships and some vague desire for a straight-talking everyman at the helm. When Jerry Manuel was replaced with Terry Collins, many thought it should’ve been Backman. At various points, all the way up until last year’s pennant winning season, many lobbied for Backman to replace Collins.

The organization never made even the slightest suggestion that it wanted what the media and the fans wanted, though, and given the tendencies of Sandy Alderson and his team, Backman would’ve always been an unlikely fit. That said: if Backman was totally incompatible with the Mets brass, he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did, trusted as he was to help develop Mets prospects, most of whom played for him in Las Vegas at one point or another. It’s also worth reminding folks that, for a brief time, Backman had the confidence of a big league club to take the helm: the Diamondbacks hired him to be their manager in November 2004 but fired him four days later after stories about his legal and financial troubles arose. Which seemed odd at the time — other managers have had DUIs and declared bankruptcy in the past; the last two Cardinals managers did those things, in fact — but obviously something freaked the Dbacks out. It’s a feather in Backman’s cap that he almost came all the way back from that, starting over in the independent leagues and low minors and working his way onto the Mets radar a few years later. No quit in that guy when he could’ve just taken his big league pension and went fishing.

There are mixed reports as to whether Backman was fired or quit. Marc Carig of Newsday is hearing that he was fired and that it was because he was increasingly defiant and not on the same page as the Mets brass. Maybe that team player stuff mentioned above had a shelf life or maybe it was just a matter of him being too long in the same place. If he’s leaving of his own volition, it would reflect his desire to find a big league manager’s job elsewhere or, at the very least, to get out of an organization which views him as having topped out. Or maybe he just wants to go fishing. We’ll likely hear soon, as he has a lot of friends in the media who would be eager to tell his story. Backman news is always read by folks who remember 1986.

Good luck, Wally.

Video: They shifted the heck out of Willie McCovey in 1969


Recently there was talk from Rob Manfred and his media surrogates about how baseball should be worried about all of the defensive shifts and that, maybe, they should change the rules of baseball in order to outlaw them. Most of this talk is underscored with either an implicit or explicit concern about shifting being radical or different or that it somehow makes baseball a different game than it had always been. Perhaps, an unfair game to some hitters.

Others point out that shifting is, actually, not something new. Shifts may be employed at an unprecedented rate these days, but the concept of moving guys around on the field is not novel. The most famous example cited in this argument is Ted Williams, who was famously shifted upon by Lou Boudreau’s Cleveland Indians. Today an anonymous tipster hipped me to another victim of out-of-position infielders:Willie McCovey.

We have video! It comes in the course of the1969 Giants season retrospective below. That was the year McCovey hit 45 homers, drove in 126 and posted an OPS+ of 209, winning the MVP Award. The whole thing is interesting as a time capsule or, if you’re a Giants fan, as a history lesson. If you just want to watch the part about the shift, however, go to the 7:30 mark or so. Here’s a link to that point.

My favorite part of the video: when the narrator says “How do you beat a shift?” And then specifically says NOTHING about outlawing shifts. How novel.

Adam Jones has strong words about Colin Kaepernick and standing for the National Anthem

Getty Images

Bob Nightengale of USA Today spoke at length with Adam Jones about Colin Kaepernick’s continuing practice of not standing for the National Anthem in protest of racism and injustice in America. A protest which has spread to several other football teams in the past week or two.

It has not spread to baseball, however, and Jones talks about why that is. His comments on that, including the quote “baseball is a white man’s sport” will likely get all of the play as this story spreads and will likely be taken out of context, but that quote is something of an aside which, however sensationalized it may become, is secondary to his larger points, even if they’re worth discussion in their own right.

His most on-point comments, in my view anyway, are right here, made in the course of dismissing those people who claim that Kaepernick is disrespecting the military or the country:

“Look, I know a lot of people who don’t even know the words to the national anthem. You know how many times I see people stand up for the national anthem and not pay attention. They stand because they’re told to stand.

“That’s the problem. Just don’t do something because you’re told to do something. Do it because you understand the meaning behind it and the sacrifice behind it.’’

As many have argued in Kaepernick’s defense, demanding that someone not protest the way he sees fit is the very definition of not understanding the meaning behind the anthem and the sacrifice behind it.

Jones goes on to talk about how it’s somehow controversial when an athlete — especially a black athlete — makes political or social comments and stands while anyone else with a voice and an audience can say whatever they want with impunity. He’s spot-on there too. We want athletes to “stick to sports” in ways we’d never dare ask anyone else to stick to certain narrow topics or concerns. It’s totally messed up.

Jones is given a lot of room in Nightengale’s article to talk about these matters and the entirety of his comments are worth your time. Pay special attention to the final quote.

The playoffs might be very interesting this year for reasons that have nothing to do with the game on the field.