Most sources agree that the Mets’ managerial search will come to an end tomorrow, and that an announcement will be made Tuesday.
As usual, there is all sort of speculation from various speculators. At first, Collins seemed to be the speculators’ choice; more recent comments suggest that it will be either Backman or Melvin.
All sources seem to agree that it will not be Hale; this is the right move to be sure. Hale is clearly a good man who will be given his chance soon to lead a major league club, but the feeing here is that the team definitely cannot once again hire a coach who has already been a part of the team—not when it is seeking serious change. The team did that with Jerry Manuel and it was a disaster; the team did not hire an Omar assistant to be the new GM and it should not hire one of Jerry’s aides as the new manager.
Much of the speculation on the new managerial choice has centered on the “experience” issue. While it is, on the surface, a fine debate, history shows that experience on the MLB level certainly does not assure future success.
Terry Francona had a very mediocre record in his first managerial stint with the Phils; now he is an icon in Boston. The two Manuels-Charlie and Jerry-had very similar results in their first stints as manager, and hugely different ones in their second chances.
To cite just a few Met-related names, Davey Johnson, Bruce Bochy, and Ron Gardenhire have had a lot of success starting with their very first MLB managing post.
Joe Torre and Casey Stengel won multiple titles after their initial leadership jobs yielded results ranging from mediocre to historically awful.
When it comes to Collins and Melvin, both have had some success in their two managerial posts. Collins never saw the postseason, but all five of his full years saw 2nd place winning clubs; his Astro and Angel teams instantly improved and sustained that improvement. Melvin’s first Mariner team won 93—precisely the total from the previous year—and then won 63 the next season. His first DBack team significantly improved (from 51 wins to 77) and sustained that improvement, making the playoffs his third year, before beginning a decline which is still continuing.
Overall, these two men clearly are capable managers with records that show the ability to lead and to improve their teams.
But both are very well-known quantities; neither is regarded as a great teacher or motivator on the MLB level. Collins is largely being considered due to his toughness; indeed he was, for better or worse, apparently too tough for his last team. Melvin is largely being considered for his overall experience and his steadiness.
Neither can be considered to be a hugely inspiring choice.
Which leaves the clear fan favorite of the Final Four, Wally Backman.
Backman does have skeletons in his closet, as do many successful managers. Tony LaRussa was found dead-drunk and asleep at the wheel of his running car at a stop light during spring training 2007. Bobby Cox had a well-publicized domestic violence incident a few years back. These are two certain Hall of Fame managers. Anyone who reads this space regularly knows that this writer detests this sort of behavior; but second chances are to be welcomed should they be properly respected.
Backman had a plethora of problems years ago, but seems to have had zero troubles since being hired and fired by the DBacks in 2004.
He has had his ups and downs as a minor league manager, but this might be explained by the obvious dramatic differences which can exist between the talent levels of teams in the lower minors.
Unlike others mentioned above, Backman has not managed at all above AA ball.
But, despite what some say, he actually has an excellent record overall in his various A and AA ball stops. His 2002 White Sox AA team was 79-61. His 2004 DBacks’ high A team was 86-54 and he won the Sporting News’ Minor League Manager of the Year award. He then was hired and fired by the DBacks.
His 2007 South Georgia Peanuts were 59-28 and won their league, while also being documented for a TV/DVD series; surely this had a role in the ridiculous tirade Backman threw which has been everywhere on the internet.
Yes, he was fired during the season in 2009 from the Joliet Jackhammers, but resurfaced in Brooklyn in 2010, leading the Cyclones to a 51-24 record.
Clearly, this is a winning manager.
Many folks, from fans to colleagues to teammates to his players have sung his praises. Dan Uggla played for Backman in the DBacks’ system, and was quoted by Adam Rubin of ESPN as saying the following, which deserves reprinting in its entirety (we thank our friend Matt Cerrone for bringing this to our attention):
“He’s one of my all-time favorite managers… He really cares about the game. He really cares about his players. And he cares about winning. Wally, I know he’s been through some tough times, but he is seriously one of the best guys I’ve ever met in baseball. He helped me out a ton… Obviously he’s very passionate with protecting his players… I’ll tell you what, if you play for Wally Backman, you’re going to be able to run through a brick wall, because we have the same emotions toward him as he has toward us. I mean, I would have run through a brick wall for him. Everybody is playing hard – I think playing above their ability – when they play for a guy like that… He’s old school. That’s who he is… He’s Wally.”
Helped him out as manager. Players playing above their ability. Guys would run through a brick wall for him.
In other words, precisely the opposite of what we have seen in Queens recently.
The feeling here is that Backman is the right choice. Every Gardenhire and Bochy had their first job at some point. For every Charlie Manuel and Terry Francona, who had far better results in their second jobs, there is a Jerry Manuel, who did not. Melvin and Collins clearly are capable major league managers. But they are very much known quantities at the MLB level; men who certainly can manage and will not seriously hurt a team, but also men with very little apparent chance to seriously motivate players in creative ways or become the next hot new manager.
Wally Backman has that potential.
It seems as though these two men are the safe choices; guys who can be rationalized as the choice should Alderson just not have the nerve to give Backman a chance. Collins will brook no nonsense and Melvin will run a pro clubhouse.
But all signs point to Backman as being the exciting, daring choice who does have the potential to become the next great new manager.
The feeling here is that the length of this search has increased Wally’s chances of winning the job—perhaps Alderson is really taking his time to think about the risk of Backman, and giving himself time to accept the choice.
Backman always hustled as a player. He certainly maximized his talent and would run through the proverbial brick wall. He most definitely always put the team first; willing to platoon and be used in any way that could increase the team’s chances of winning.
He brings everything that this underachieving, disappointing team needs. That he also brings a pedigree as a title-winning Met player is simply the icing—it is not the cake as some suggest.
Here is a voice hoping that Alderson names Wally Backman as the next Met manager. The fans are surely often wrong in their demands—but not this time.
Wally Backman is the best choice of the remaining four men being considered for the position of next manager of our New York Mets.