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One of the best second basemen to wear a Mets uniform, Wally Backman was one of the critical pieces to the Mets' success in the 1980s. Backman was not a big guy, but was as aggressive and gritty as any player in his time.
The Mets drafted Backman in 1977 after he hit .548 in high school. He made his professional debut in 1980 and batted .323 in 93 at-bats while filling in for an injured Doug Flynn.
In 1981, Backman only had 36 at-bats before getting sent to the minor leagues. He then claimed he would retire and did not get called back up during the post-strike portion of the season. He batted .278 for the season.
Backman split time at second base with Bob Bailor until he suffered a broken collarbone from a bicycle accident, which ended his season. In 96 games, Backman batted .272 with three home runs (the most he ever hit as a Met in one season) and 22 RBI.
In 1983, Backman grew frustrated at backing up the weaker-hitting Brian Giles and got shipped back and forth between the Mets and Triple-A Tidewater. As a result, he publicly demanded a trade. As it turned out, going to Triple-A was what Backman needed as he got to know Triple-A manager Davey Johnson.
In 1984, Backman finally got the big break his career needed when Johnson got promoted as the new Mets manager. He put Backman in as his regular second baseman, although Backman usually platooned with a right-handed hitting second baseman. Although he was a switch-hitter, Backman was much better from the left side (.306 average across nine seasons) than the right side (.164 average across nine seasons) where he consistently struggled. Backman batted .280 in 1984 with one home run, 26 RBI and 32 stolen bases.
In 1985, Backman was even better. He batted .273 with one home run, 38 RBI, 24 doubles and 30 stolen bases. With Lenny Dykstra called up as the new leadoff hitter, he and Backman intimidated pitchers with their patience and good batting eyes, as they got on base to set up the bigger bats in the lineup.
Backman had his best season during the Mets' championship run in 1986. He raised his average to .320 and had one home run, 27 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a .376 on-base percentage. By then, Tim Teufel had been acquired to play second base against left-handed starters. Backman batted .333 in 18 at-bats during the World Series.
In 1987, Backman's average fell to just .250. He once again had just one home run and 23 RBI. One factor that played into this season was that Backman missed a few weeks with a hamstring injury, which definitely could have been bothering him for even longer.
Backman bounced back to his normal form in 1988 by batting .303 with a .388 on-base percentage. He did not hit a single home run and finished with just 17 RBI. At this point, his platoon with Teufel was even more strict and Backman failed to appear in 100 games for the second consecutive season. He batted .273 in the NLCS against the Dodgers in what would be the final games of his Mets career.
Due to the emergence of Gregg Jefferies, the Mets decided to trade Backman to the Twins prior to the 1989 season. Across nine seasons with the Mets, he batted .283 and had a .353 on-base percentage. He spent just that season there before signing with the Pirates in 1990. As a Pirate, he mostly backed up Jeff King at third base.
Backman then spent 1991 and 1992 with the Phillies. He signed with the Braves prior to 1993, but got cut in spring training. He then signed with the Mariners, but got released after batting just .138 in 38 games.
After retiring, Backman spent some time as a minor league manager before being hired as the Diamondbacks' manager for the 2005 season. However, he ended up getting fired just four days later as a result of some previous legal issues, which include a DUI, and declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying creditors. The Diamondbacks were not happy that Backman lied, which was a big reason as to why they fired him.
To repair his reputation, Backman then managed various independent league teams before returning to the Mets. He managed the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2010 before becoming a managerial candidate for the Mets prior to the 2011 season. The position was ultimately given to Terry Collins and Backman was given the job to manage the Double-A Binghamton Mets, which is what he is doing today.
Thanks to his patient batting eye, hustle and overall aggressiveness, Backman is without a doubt one of the best second basemen the Mets have ever had. However, there is one former Mets second baseman that happened to be a better overall player.