Darryl to Wally: No Comparison
In an article written last week in The Record, Bob Klapisch suggests that the makeup of the current Mets team would not respond well to the “old school” style of Wally Backman.
Today’s major-leaguers are athletic specimens, not to mention brighter, better educated and more socially enlightened than their predecessors. But that’s not to say they’re tougher or more competitive. Bay and Francoeur are two of the nicest guys around, but they would’ve never survived in the Strawberry-Keith Hernandez-Lenny Dykstra clubhouse 25 years ago.
That’s a point worth remembering when the Mets go hunting for a new manager this winter. Among the many candidates they’ll consider is Wally Backman, who, like Strawberry, is as old school and un-nuanced as they come. While that’s made him a terrific manager at the minor league level, the decidedly un-PC mentality has cost him job after job.
Jeff Wilpon is taking a gamble by installing Backman at Class-A Brooklyn, but it’s worth a shot. Wilpon, in fact, told Backman over the winter that he’ll someday manage the Mets – if he can stay out of trouble.
Backman swears he’s conquered his demons, including alcohol, but it’s his temper that’ll really be the deciding factor. The real question is whether Backman can speak the language of today’s ballplayer: can he motivate the Bays and Francoeurs of the world without trampling on their egos?
There are few problems with this series of paragraphs, and the article in whole.
First of all, the timing by Klapisch was off — the Mets were on a roll, having just won a series from the Yankees and about to sweep the Phillies — no time to be talking about Jerry Manuel’s replacement. The article was either a week too late or a week too early.
Secondly, how is it that the nice-guy, supposedly untough current Mets can play under Manuel and his coaching staff but not Backman? Manuel, Dan Warthen, Razor Shines, and Howard Johnson are just as “old school” as Backman — if not older. Warthen’s caustic tone in particular has raised eyebrows and caused some friction, but it’s not his verbal treatment of the pitching staff that’s made them walk so many batters. The only real difference between Manuel and Backman is that Wally has won championships everywhere he’s been, and Jerry has won nothing.
And although Backman hasn’t managed at the big-league level, he has managed big-leaguers; to name a few: Aaron Rowand, Dan Uggla, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Aaron Miles, Neal Cotts, Gary Majewski, Miguel Olivo, and Mark Reynolds. Ask any of them about playing under Wally, and they’ll tell you they’d run through a wall for him. But maybe those guys aren’t as sensitive as Jeff Francoeur or Jason Bay.
But really what it comes down to is this: Klapisch compares Backman to Darryl Strawberry in a generalization that challenges logic. Just because they were teammates for 3 years doesn’t mean that Strawberry and Backman are similar in style, attitude, and intellect, does it? By that logic, Tim Teufel, Bob Ojeda, Gary Carter, and Keith Hernandez (for example) would be be just as ineffective — and Howard Johnson has no business being an MLB coach. In other words, no one who played for the Mets in the 1980s can coach / manage today’s ballplayers, because they’re “un-PC” and “old school”.
(The funny thing is, I distinctly remember watching Darryl’s career, and NOT ONCE would I ever have compared his approach to the game to that of the hard-nosed, always-hustling Backman, Hernandez, Ojeda, Carter, etc. — much the opposite, in fact. So much for “old school”.)
The truth is, Strawberry “is who he is” , and the Straw Man ticked off Francoeur and Bay because a) the Mets had just beaten the Yankees, and in the midst of a high-confidence roll; b) for the first time in years, the club is full of gritty, hustling gamers that don’t need to be spanked about their effort; and c) Darryl came more or less out of nowhere to assert his feelings to a team with which he has built no relation nor trust.
Even if Darryl was on point with what he said, it wasn’t his place to do so because he hasn’t been hanging around the team very much. As great a god-gifted athlete Strawberry was, he is NOT a Hall of Famer, and he does not command the instant respect of, say, a Tom Seaver or Reggie Jackson. Strawberry has to earn his respect with people before he can tell them what to do.
This is why the crux of Klapisch’s article has questionable merit; he intimates that because the Mets were offended by Strawberry’s tough talk, they’ll similarly be put off by Backman’s alleged “un-PC” style. I say “alleged” because Klapisch assumes that he knows how Backman talks to and treats ballplayers — despite NEVER covering the beat at any of Backman’s managerial stops. Just because a manager flips out on umpires and throws two dozen bats on the field, doesn’t mean he treats his own players similarly. For example: Bobby Cox.
Which brings up another erroneous point by Klapisch: the notion that Backman lost jobs because of his “non-PC mentality” — or that he lost jobs, AT ALL. Nothing could be further from the truth. Backman’s reign as manager of the South Georgia Peanuts ended because the league they played in, disbanded. The Diamondbacks fired Backman four days after hiring him due to media pressure regarding a DUI and a domestic violence charge — both of which were from his past, and both of which they knew full well about. Every other job Backman had, he held until he was promoted to a higher level. How does being fired ONCE translate to “…cost him job after job” ?
Finally, by stating “Backman swears he’s conquered his demons, including alcohol…” Klapisch sort of implies that Wally Backman is an alcoholic — bordering on libel. OK, maybe not libel, but it’s a coy maneuver to loosely equate a past DUI with alcoholism, and appear to be on Wally’s side while simultaneously covering his keister in the event the media gets Backman fired because some nutjob with a camera phone catches Wally with a drink in his hand.
It’s funny how bloggers get trounced on by the “professional” media when they speculate about PEDs, but paid journalists can throw around things like alcohol abuse and get off scot-free. Meh, I digress …
In the end, Klapisch’s column was a mixture of bad timing and bad information that built a bad comparison. That doesn’t make Bob Klapisch a bad guy — I always read his columns and will continue to enjoy them, I’m sure, in the future. But I feel it is necessary to (continually) set the record straight on Wally Backman, whose reputation has been erroneously reported to be much worse than it is, yet is negatively advanced by members of the media who don’t have, or are too lazy to research, the facts.
Sorry for the long rant, but sometimes it takes a while to correct multiple errors.
I'd still like to see Wally as manager and Bobby V as GM.