The idea that Wally Backman is the cure for everything that ills the New York Mets is one of the New York pres corps strongest convinctions. They believe that he’s entitled to manage the Mets and that the fact that he hasn’t been granted that right yet is evidence that he has been blackballed and otherwise treated unfairly by Sandy Alderson and the Mets.
They’ve believed this for years. They believe that if only he were given a chance he’d lead the Mets to glory. And that there is some sort of conspiracy to keep him down. The latest example of this comes in Bob Klapisch’s pro-Backman column today:
You couldn’t help but wonder how Sandy Alderson really felt about Wally Backman winning the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year award, considering the GM has shown no intention of giving Backman a chance in New York. It’s time to reconsider this de facto blackball, and see Backman as an asset who can help the Mets ascend toward respectability.
Of course, this would require Alderson shedding his prejudice against the very trait that makes Backman unique: He’s an independent thinker with a strong personality, as old-school as it gets. Alderson is a dominant GM who values managers that act as corporate messengers.
See, it’s not just Alderson who thinks that, though. If you look around baseball, the dominant view these days is that managers are subordinate to the GM and their job is to be a company man. To carry out the wishes of the baseball operations department and create as little controversy and provide as little color as possible. Maybe that’s not a great idea. Maybe the old model of hiring Billy Martin-types will one day be shown to be better. But that’s not what’s happening in baseball now, so to claim that Alderson has some unique and regrettable grudge here is simply wrong. Hiring independent thinkers with strong personalities is the exception in baseball these days, not the rule.
You know who likes independent thinkers and strong personalities? Sports writers. Especially sports writers who have spent several decades covering the independent thinker because it means they’ll get great quotes and access to the independent thinker. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with the support Backman gets.
As for Backman himself? I have no idea how he’d do as a manager. Maybe he’d be fine. But when he wasn’t hired several years ago he was not some wronged man. He had no high level managing experience and he had a spotty off-the-field history that involved him being dishonest with the one team — the Diamondbacks — who hired him to manage in the bigs. Maybe Kalpisch is right when he argues that Backman has served his sentence for all of that, but he knows more than anyone that people in baseball do not forget such things. That baseball is a conservative institution in which people in front offices are rarely rewarded for taking chances like that.
That being said, that Wally Backman doesn’t have a big league job now does not make him the target of a vendetta. There are guys who spend decades in the minors managing, scouting, coaching — you name it — who never get a chance to manage in the bigs. That’s not injustice. It’s just a function of there only being 30 jobs. Backman is nothing special in this regard. No matter what people who really, really like him say to the contrary.