I was working at the Associated Press at the time, sitting at my old desk reading the wire over and over again, not fully understanding how the D’Backs could have allowed themselves to look so stupid. Wally had been working in their system for over a year managing the Single-A Lancaster Jet Hawks, managing several of the team’s top prospects, and they didn’t know about his past ubtil AFTER they hired him?
I think not.
Sure, I rooted for Wally when I was kid, and in my freshman year at Queens College, he was a key player on the 1986 Mets. I was a Mookie Wilson guy, but Wally was someone I had been rooting for all the years prior to Davey Johnson giving him a shot in 1984. I subscribed to the then-Mets Inside Pitch, and was very well aware of the Mets’ system even back then. I feel, as I still do, that one should know about his team’s players the minor leagues as he/she does the majors.
In any event, for much of his baseball life, Wally has been fighting against the establishment. The more research I did on the firing, and the subsequent hatchet job done on him by members in the Arizona and national media, the more I was determined to write about it. So I called Wally. Then I called his then-agent, the former SJU hoopster and ex-Met farmhand Terry Bross, several former and current members of the Mets organization, and so on.
Then a few years later, award-winning filmmaker John Fitzgerald (The Emerald Diamond) was making a TV series about Wally’s stint with the South Georgia Peanuts, and asked me to appear on camera to share what I knew.
When I got the news that Jeff Wilpon was going to bring him back into the organization, I was shocked. Not because he didn’t deserve it, but because I didn’t think the Mets (and Fred Wilpon) had the guts to throw open running lanes for a guy that some in the media had deemed untouchable.
Then, my good friend Ed Shakespeare, who I got to know during the incredible Coney Island summer od 2001 (when he was writing his awesome “When Baseball Returned to Brooklyn: The Inaugural Season of the New York–Penn League Cyclones”) asked me to spend the 2010 season in Brooklyn for Gotham Baseball to do a profile on Wally. I published it today.. I think it’s a great piece, something I have come accustomed to from Shakespeare.
I think whoever the Mets next GM is should pick his own manager, I have said that before, but I also think the Mets need to shake things up, especially in the manager department.
Art Howe was a terrible hire, a nice man, but so ill-equipped for New York and the clubhouse he inherited from Steve Phillips that is was pathetic to watch. Had Willie Randolph had spent less time telling everyone that he was a “winner”, done a better job with his bullpen, or had a GM and ownership that shut the door to any players whining about how they were being treated, things might haver worked out. Had the last two and half years been less of a chucklefest, Jerry “Ghandi” Manuel probably would have been fired a lot sooner.
After watching his hand-picked guy spit the bit and head home in mid-1983, Frank Cashen rolled the dice, hiring a brash former second baseman who had been successful as a minor league manager. Three years later, the Mets were World Champions. I am not saying Wally Backman is going to be another Davey Johnson, but one of the reasons Davey won that title is because he believed in Backman.