Any Mets fan today who remembers the team from the 1980’s remembers Wally Backman. He was No. 6. He was the scrappy second baseman who never left a game with a clean uniform. The Mets were not a winning team when Backman first came to the majors in 1980, but he always played to win.
That’s the kind of mindset that the Mets need today and it’s what New York fans expect from their team.
With a new manager in Davey Johnson, the Mets were competitors starting in 1984. Johnson had managed Backman in the minors and he admired the fiery second baseman.
Backman’s style of play was a key ingredient in the success of the Mets during the mid-to-late 1980s. Backman was an aggressive competitor all the time. He wasn’t the biggest or most talented player on the team, but Backman always gave 100 percent. Mets fans loved him for it.
Backman’s hustle and determination played a key role in winning Game Three of the National League playoffs against the Houston Astros in 1986. The Mets were trailing Houston by a run going into the ninth when Backman came to bat.
He knew he had to get on base. He wasn’t going to get caught looking at strike three against Astro’s closer Dave Smith. Here’s how Backman describes what happened next:
“I bunted the ball down the line, and I dove to the outside of the bag, and they (the Astros) wanted everybody to think I got out of the baseline. I’ve seen it on tape, and it kind of looked that way”.
If you watch the play, it does look like Backman ran outside the baseline. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. He got on base because that’s what the team needed. “In my opinion, the whole series turned on that bunt by Wally Backman,” Mets catcher Gary Carter later said.
Lenny Dykstra was the next batter up and he hit a home run to win the game. If Backman hadn’t gotten on base, Dykstra’s homer would have merely tied the game. Who knows what would have happened next. Would the Mets have lost the game in extra innings and fail to reach the World Series?
What kind of manager would Backman be?
Here’s a telling quote from Backman about Davey Johnson: “Davey was a no-nonsense guy. He was a guy whose rule was, ‘Don’t embarrass the ball club or me.’ You give him everything you got. I felt I did that for him all the time. That was his style, to play to win. Do what it takes to win.”
I’m confident that Backman would manage the Mets with a similar outlook.
Right now, it appears that Terry Collins is in the lead to be the next Mets manager. I have nothing against Collins except I don’t think he’s best choice. Yes, he is an experienced baseball man. He has managed major league teams. But I’m a big believer in the intangibles, the chemistry and attitude that make a team a winning one. Collins lacks the special connection Backman has with the Mets and the fans. Backman has the intangibles and the attitude the Mets need to be a winner.
As a manager, Backman would get fans excited about 2011 in way that Collins or Bob Melvin never could. Excitement can be contagious and the Mets need spark. I hope Sandy Alderson will consider this.
I admit my case for Wally Backman is more emotional and sentimental than analytical. But the Mets have hired experienced and analytical managers in the past like Jeff Torborg, Art Howe and Jerry Manuel. Do Mets fans have many fond memories of the teams they managed?
When Citi Field opened in 2009, it seemed to ignore the history of the Mets. The performance of the team in recent years has made us yearn for a return of past glory.
The Mets need a fresh start and a new direction. The fans want the team to be competitive and fun to watch again. What better way to do that than to hire No. 6 as the next manager of the New York Mets? It’s time for Wally Ball.
Bring him home.