6 DUPACR: Wally Backman

With 6 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, I chose former #6 Wally Backman to represent the day.

Are you surprised? If so then you don’t come by here often.

Wally — like many of the ’86 Mets — was considered an “old-school” player in the 1980s … which means, in today’s game, he’d be REALLY old-school … in fact I’m not even sure that schools existed in cro-magnon times.

25-30 years ago, old school meant hustling all the time; getting the uniform dirty by sliding head-first and diving for balls; taking out the pivot man on a double play as a rule; leaning into a pitch to get on base; stealing signs; barreling the catcher; playing with injuries; and doing everything else (without cheating) to win a ballgame. This may sound similar to what “old school” means today, but there is one more factor that you rarely, if ever, see from today’s old-schooler: hatred for the opponent. There was no fraternizing back then — not before games, not during games. OK, there was an occasional chatty first baseman, but for the most part, opponents genuinely hated each other. And in 1986, NL teams genuinely hated the Mets — and vice-versa. Three players in particular — Wally Backman, Ray Knight, and Lenny Dykstra — epitomized the “old school” way, and despite not being the most gifted or highest-profile players, were driving forces of the character of the last Mets World Championship club.

There are many things I remember vividly about Wally, beginning with his distinctive, squatting batting stance. He did everything he had to do to get on base, be it by hit, by getting hit, by walking, or, my favorite, via a drag bunt. His drag bunting from the left side was spectacular; he would push it hard past the pitcher, but too far away from the first baseman and more or less at the second baseman, who was usually playing too far back to field the ball in time. Both Backman and Mookie Wilson turned that execution into an art form, and seemed to always get a hit as a result. To this day I don’t understand why the Mets haven’t sent Jose Reyes to work with Wally and/or Mookie during spring training to learn how to bunt like this; Reyes might hit .350 if he bunted for a hit more often.

But I digress …

Of course I remember Wally’s hard-nosed play and passion on the field. Though, one other incident that sticks with me was off the field: his run-in with Darryl Strawberry in 1987. For years, Straw was chronically late for games and/or would beg out after partying too much the evening before. The Straw that broke the camel’s back came in early July ’87, when Darryl recorded a rap song on a Monday night, then came up “ill” on Tuesday night before an important game against the Cardinals. He sat out that game and the next for “low-grade fever and headache”; his teammates translated that to mean, “I don’t want to face the Cards’ two tough lefty starters Joe Magrane and Mike Mathews”. Lee Mazzilli and Wally Backman called out Darryl in the press, with Backman saying, “From the stuff I heard from the trainer’s room, Straw should’ve been out there. Nobody in the world that I know of gets sick 25 times a year.” This prompted the 6’6″ Strawberry to respond, “I’ll bust that little redneck in the face”. When reporters relayed that to the 5’8″ Backman, Wally said, “If that’s the case, do you think I’m going to back down?”. Gotta love it.

There were many, many others to wear #6, so I’m sure you have your own choice to represent this day. Just a few of them: Jose Cardenal, Al Weis, Mike Vail, Alex Trevino, Daryl Boston, Joe Orsulak, Melvin Mora, Timo Perez, Mike DiFelice, Ruben Gotay. What #6 do you remember most and why? Share your memories in the comments.

We have less than a week, folks!

The countdown thus far:

#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Walnutz15 February 9, 2011 at 8:38 am
    I’ve spoken enough about Backman this winter. I’ll just chime in to say that I ordered a personalized Joe Orsulak #6 t-shirt a few years ago.

    Most of the time, it gets a quizzical reaction. To those who suffered through those miserable Met teams of the early 90’s — it solicits better responses.

    “Joe Orsulak! That’s f^*&In’ great.”

    I now return to my regularly scheduled work-day.

  2. NormE February 9, 2011 at 9:18 am
    Of course number 6 has to be Wally!
    However, I do recall Joe Orsulak as being a very fine defensive outfielder—one of the best the Mets had up to that time. Of course hitting was another matter—no power at all.
    • Joe Janish February 10, 2011 at 9:28 am
      I played against Orsulak in a semipro league (Morris County Majors) about a thousand years ago and he was a spectacular all-around player at that level — he could run like the wind, hit anything everything on the button, catch balls that seemed uncatchable, and had a rifle for an arm. Good guy, too, and a tremendous competitor … a ballplayer’s ballplayer.
      • Walnutz15 February 10, 2011 at 10:44 am
        Left-handed outfielders who could track it down are always appreciated in the Walnutz World.

        …..unless, of course – you’re a dog.

        I loved creating past-player T-Shirts, but don’t even know if you can anymore on MLB.com.

        Thinking it might be the perfect year to truly bust out my WILPUTZ #00 shirt.

        • cdubbs February 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm
          wow, now that’s a jersey idea!
  3. SamB February 9, 2011 at 11:24 am
    I remember seeing Timo Perez hit an inside the park home run at the Vet in Philly. I was a little out of place as a Mets fan living in South Philly a few blocks away from the stadium but back then at Phillies Mets games I was definitely not out of place because the Mets fans out numbered Phillies fans at the Vet. I hass a friend who worked for the Phils and he got me tickets to the whole series and I was treated to my first inside the parker. Have not witnessed another one live since. Thanks Timo!
    • cdubbs February 10, 2011 at 8:35 am
      i remember the same timo perez made a crucial baserunning mistake in game one of the subway series effectively losing that game. the series couldve been so much different if timo had not been watching todd ziele’s high fly and running like wally would have
      • Walnutz15 February 10, 2011 at 9:06 am
        Hated Timo Perez, myself — had a nice start to his career, but definitely believed his own hype……..based off a short “right place, right time” spark he provided in 2000.

        One of the dumbest players to put on a Met uniform.

  4. Walnutz15 February 9, 2011 at 11:26 am
    I think we’re discounting the merits of #6, Ruben Gotay. The irrational fear of allowing him to play 2nd base – during a time in which he was starting to flourish (not only in terms of production, but “fit” with a then, winning, club) led to the acquisition of an aging gimp named Luis Castillo.

    His subsequent 4-year extension, at money he was nowhere near worth — puts us in our present position….wanting to look at younger, cheaper (maybe a bit more flawed defensively) options at 2nd base.

    Obviously, someone will be quick to point to the fact that Gotay’s never been anywhere near the Major League-level on a mainstay basis since then — but alot of times, success is on a “right place, right time” basis.

    “Young & Hungry” went to “Old & Gimpy” seemingly overnight…..and the same could be said about the Mets’ hopes. Right down the toilet, and scrambling to find replacements ever since.


  5. Fred February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm
    My #6 memory was of Jose Cardenal being traded from the Phillies to the Mets during a double header between the Mets and the Phillies in 1980. It was pretty wild seeing Cardenal show up in a Mets uniform for Game 2. The only thing that was almost as weird was when the Mets played a day game in 1982, traded Joel Youngblood to the Expos after the game, and then seeing Youngblood get a hit that evening for the Expos against the Reds. I believe those are the only times that (1) a player was traded during a double header between the two teams involved, and (2) a player played a day game with one team and night game with another. As Casey used to say, you can look it up!
    • Joe Janish February 10, 2011 at 9:30 am
      I remember both of those doubleheader deals as vividly! I should have mentioned them in the post … glad you brought them up here, as they were memorable, if unusual. Thanks!
  6. Andy February 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm
    Well it’s nice that Strawberry essentially endorsed Wally for manager. I guess that old row about those sick days is water under the bridge.
  7. Walnutz15 February 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm
    “I’ll bust that little redneck in the face.”
  8. Ed February 11, 2011 at 9:09 am
    Al Weis for hitting .455 with a homer and 3 rbi in the ’69 Series.