Wally Backman Rejects Nationals
According to Bob Klapisch, Wally Backman has rejected an offer by Davey Johnson to join the Nationals’ coaching staff, and instead will accept the Mets’ offer to manage the AAA Buffalo Bisons in 2012.
Ironically, it was Johnson who talked Wally out of joining the Nats. After the offer was made, the two comrades spoke at length in regard to Backman’s future. From a selfish point of view, Johnson wanted his former fiery second baseman and disciple on his own staff, but long-term he felt Backman’s best chance of managing in MLB would be by proving his worth for another year as a manager in AAA. Though it’s only one step above AA, there’s a significant gap between the two levels in terms of player personnel. Specifically, a AAA team is more likely to have seasoned, veteran players on its roster — many of whom have some (if not extended) big-league experience. Since one of the raps on Backman is that much of his managerial career has been leading young, inexperienced kids, a full season at AAA with older, experienced players would be a positive point on his resume next winter.
Additionally, Backman’s strong loyalty to the Wilpons was weighed heavily; he might not be in organized baseball right now if they didn’t hire him to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones two years ago. Despite being passed over for the MLB manager job last winter, Backman still bleeds orange and blue, is greatly appreciative of the opportunities afforded him by the Mets, and believes that after Terry Collins has fulfilled his term, he is next in line for the post. Whether he really is next in line is anyone’s guess — particularly considering the fragility of Mets ownership right now. My feeling is that Wally holds his time in a Mets uniform dearly, and as such, sees himself as a Mets manager some day. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but I agree that — if his ultimate goal is to manage in the bigs — Wally is best served spending a year managing in AAA.
Though many first-time MLB managers were previously bench or third-base coaches, I would think that it’s difficult to make the jump from coach to manager unless one coached for a playoff team. And even then it’s not so easy. Think about it: Jose Oquendo has been considered a “manager in waiting” for almost a decade in St. Louis, and even with Tony LaRussa‘s retirement, he still may not be hired for the Cardinal’s open post.
Though I believe the Nationals have a good shot at finishing third in NL East again next year, they’re just as likely to finish fourth. Neither of those finishes is going to draw attention to the team’s bench coach; more likely, those on the coaching staff will be handed pink slips — and then where do they go? As a AAA manager, though, it’s nearly impossible to get fired — one has to screw up royally to get the heave-ho. Further, a AAA manager is not necessarily blamed for a poor record, considering the turnover and constant flux of his roster. However, if a AAA team does well, that is a feather in the manager’s cap. In short, it’s an ideal situation, in that the manager can get much of the credit for success, and won’t get blamed for failure.
Additionally, there is the comparison of Backman now to Davey Johnson of the early 1980s. Johnson managed both AA Jackson and AAA Tidewater before being promoted to the Mets in 1984. It was a young Mets team, and Johnson was already familiar with many of them, having managed or coached them in the minors; you could say he “grew up” with them. Similarly, Wally has led Brooklyn and Binghamton, and the Mets as a franchise right now are in a similar place they were in the early 80s. By 2013 / 2014, we are likely to see many “homegrown” Mets on the big-league roster, and because of his familiarity with them, Backman might be a perfect choice to manage when Terry Collins’ term is over — much like Johnson was in 1984.
Of course, a lot can happen in a year; and I for one am glad that Backman will still be in the Mets organization, teaching youngsters his brand of baseball, during that time.