The first shoe dropped when Tony Bernazard was relieved of his services. Most recently, Latin American scouting chief Ramon Pena met the same fate. Additionally, Omar Minaya’s former mentor and current right-hand man Sandy Johnson announced he’d be retiring at the end of the season. Further, the future of the Mets’ coaching staff is “under evaluation”.
In other words, the Mets are cleaning house — and it won’t be long before Jerry Manuel finds himself in a similar situation that his “friend” Willie Randolph found himself in the late spring of 2008.
All signs from the Wilpons are that both Minaya and Manuel will retain their jobs through the winter. It’s the same modus operandi that kept Randolph employed after the infamous collapse of 2007. Randolph was given leniency, but was put on a short leash — one attached to a spiked prong collar. So is history is any indicator, we can assume that although Manuel may begin the 2010 season as Mets manager, it’s no guarantee that he will end the season in the same position.
But who will be the next in line if / when Jerry Manuel can’t get the cavalry to come out guns a-blazin’ in April and May of next year?
Turn back the clock to 1983. The Mets were in the middle of a rebuilding phase that would eventually result in the 1986 World Championship. They coaxed a former manager in their minor league system to come back to the organization and lead their AAA Tidewater Tides.
His name was Davey Johnson.
Johnson led the Tides to the AAA championship — much like he led his other minor league teams to championships. At the time, people considered him something of a loose cannon; a gruff, no-nonsense, old-school player’s manager with a hot temper. He eschewed authority and said what was on his mind, regardless of who he hurt as a result — even if it was himself. But there was one thing that separated this gunslinger from every other manager on the planet — he won everywhere he went.
Johnson knew how to motivate his squad, had a great eye for talent, an even better ability to make the most of the talent he was given, and earned a penchant for developing young players. One of his favorite soldiers was a like-minded, scrappy ballplayer named Wally Backman.
You know the story of Backman the player. You might know the story of Backman the manager. Though he’s found more notoriety for negative incidents, he’s proven himself at every level as a field general. Like Johnson, he’s won everywhere he’s been, with a room full of championship trophies — including one for Minor League Manager of the Year in 2004. He knows how to get the most out of his ballplayers — any of them will readily admit to running through the proverbial brick wall for him. As a minor league manager, he’s followed in the footsteps of his previous mentor and earned a rep for developing young ballplayers, teaching them the fundamentals and a winning approach to the game. The only reason he’s not managing in the big leagues today is because of an unfortunate combination of poor judgment, blackmail, and public relations sensitivity which we won’t get into here. The bottom line is this: Wally Backman wins, he has a strong tie to the last Mets’ World Championship, he develops young talent, and he’s exactly the right personality this organization needs right now.
It’s clear that Jerry Manuel will be the Mets manager on Opening Day in 2010, and that’s fine — the team isn’t likely to be playing “meaningful games in September” this time next year anyhow. A great move by the Mets would be to hire Backman as, say, the manager of the AAA Buffalo Bisons, or the AA Binghamton Mets, for the 2010 season. Somehow, some way, get him back into the organization. Put him in charge of one of your last-place minor league clubs and see what he can do — he just might surprise you. And if he does, you have a manager-in-waiting ready to take over the helm at the big league level when it’s time for Jerry Manuel to move on.
The Mets have nothing to lose by bringing Wally back into the fold — and everything to gain. The organization has suffered its worst campaign in terms of public relations in at least five years, and the fan base is losing hope. Hiring a beloved hero from the past — one with a strong personality, winning track record, and the no-bs, underdog persona that Mets supporters crave — would be the first step in showing the fans that there is hope: Mets do indeed have a plan, and steps in the right direction have begun. And if they’re serious about their commitment to youth, they’d do well to install a man who knows what to do with it.
The restructuring started with the removal of personnel that held the team back; it will continue with the hiring of new personnel — with new ideas and attitudes to push the team forward.
Check out the following two videos and decide for yourself whether the Mets organization can use someone like Wally to shape up the ship and reverse its farm system’s poor reputation.
Wally Backman on Aggressive Baseball
Wally Backman on Developing MLB Players
BTW – The videos are from “Playing for Peanuts” which aired briefly on SNY. Stay tuned for more great behind-the-scenes/deleted footage that show what kind of manager Wally is, because MetsToday firmly believes its time for a change in the Mets organization. It’s time to Bring Wally Back, Man!