Do you remember the time before the steroid era when a major league second baseman had a good season if he hit over .260 with ten homers and lets say 50-60 RBIs ? These days with the exception of Luis Castillo ( or any other Mets middle infielder for that matter) it is hard to find a player that fits that mold yet is considered one of the better players in the game. Well coming in at number 31 on the list of the top 50 Mets of all time as voted by you the readers of this blog is none other that the pepper to Lenny Dykstra’s salt – Wally Backman.
Walter Wayne Backman was born in Hillsboro Oregon on September 22, 1959. In 1977 , Wally would be selected as the Mets’ first round pick in that years Major League draft. He was the sixteenth overall selection. He was immediately assigned to the Mets Single A affiliate in the New York Penn League. In his first season in the Mets farm system , Wally hit .325 with six home runs.
Wally would rise quickly through the Mets farm system and in 1980 he received a September call up to the Mets. Wally made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 2. He started the game at second base and in his first ever big league at bat he promptly singled, scoring Claudell Washington for his first RBI .
For the next three season, Wally would play well enough not to make the team . He would usually be called up midway through the season to replace a injured player, but he could just not stick on the roster. In 1984 , Wally finally got his shot to be the Mets everyday second baseman when then manager, Davey Johnson gave him the job when the Mets broke camp out of Spring Training. That season Backman would hit .280. In 1985 , Wally would play in the most games of his career ( 145) and bat .273 with one homer and 38 RBIs.He would steal thirty bases and only struck out 72 times !
In the winter before the ’86 season, then general manager Frank Cashen felt that he needed to strengthen the infield, so he acquired right handed hitting second baseman, Tim Teufel from the Minnesota Twins for a handful of minor leaguers. The biggest one was one time top Mets prospect, Billy Beane. Tim and Wally would form one of the fiercest second base platoons ever.
Wally along with Lenny Dykstra, proved to be the best table setters in the business that season. With Lenny batting first and Wally right behind him in the batting order, the opposition always had to be on their toes because of the tandems cunningness and speed on the base paths.
Wally Finished the ’86 regular season with a career high batting average of .320with one homer and 27 RBIs . He would score 67 runs and stole 13 bases .. Wally would bat .333 in the World Series when the Mets would beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the second championship in team history .
Wally would spend some time on the disabled list during the ’87 season due to a pulled hamstring. He was limited to 94 games and hit only.250 with 23 RBIs.
In 1988, Backman was still platooning at second base with Teufel. Wally would bat .303 that season with 17 RBIs in 99 games . He was placed on the disabled list that August when he once again strained his hamstring during a game. The Mets won their division and went on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS that post season.Wally played well in that series, hitting 273 and plating , 2 RBIs.
Wally’s tenure with the Mets would end after that post season, and the Mets would deal him along with minor league pitching prospect, Mike Santiago to the Minnesota Twins for minor league pitchers, Jeff Bumgarner, Steve Gasser and Toby Nivens. The trade was made so that then minor league phenom , Gregg Jefferies could have a position to play in 1989.
Wally would only play one season with the Twins before signing with the Pirates as a free agent in 1990. He was used primarilly as a back up third baseman that season.
Wally would sign with the Phillies in ’91, and he would spend two seasons with them. He would bounce around to the Braves and Mariners before finally retiring in 1993.
After retiring as a player, Wally found his calling as a manager. In ’02 he led the Chicago White Sox minor league double a affiliate, Birmingham Barons a 79–61 record. In 2004,he received the Sporting News award for Minor League Manager of the Year when he led the Arizona Diamondbacks single a team, the Lancaster Jethawks,to a dominating record of 86–54.
We all know about Wally’s fall from grace after being hired as the Diamondbacks and his subsequent firing a few days later when it was disclosed that he had serious legal and financial problems,and a arrest for DUI in 1999.
Wally would bounce around as a manager in the Independent Leagues as a manger until last season when he would find redemption as the manager of the Mets short season single a team , The Coney Island Cyclones. Wally would lead the Cyclones to a record of 51-24 record, winning the McNamara Division of the New York-Penn League. Wally and the Cyclones ultimately lost the championship series to the Tri-City ValleyCats.
This past off season, Wally interviewed for the vacant Mets managerial job after the “ Laughing Gangsta” – Jerry Manuel was rubbed out himself. Wally would make it to the second round of interviews , Wally would be passed over for the job, and Terry Collins would be hired instead.
But Wally will remain in the organization as the manager of the Mets double A affiliate in Binghamton.
Very few player played with the grit and the passion of Wally Backman. His brash style still resonates with the fans today, and maybe someday real soon he will lead the New York Mets into battle.
Tomorrow we will pull the shroud that has been obscuring the number 30 Met of all time.
And with that said… HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!!!
New York Mets traded minor league pitching prospects, A. J. Burnett and Jesus Sanchez along with minor league outfielder, Robert Stratton to the Florida Marlins for Ace pitcher, Al Leiter and minor league infielder, Ralph Milliard on February 6, 1998. This was a great trade that helped solidify the Mets starting rotation. Yes they traded a future ace ( Burnett) but the got in return was a bonafide Cy Young award winner in Leiter. Leiter would spend the next seven season with the Mets, and he had a love/hate relationship with the fans. He was reported to be a clubhouse lawyer type that helped to engineer the trade of Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano.
New York Mets signed free agent pitcher, Nelson Figueroa on February 6, 2008. Nelson was used primarily as a fill in starter in his two seasons for the Mets. He would shuttle up and down from the farm team in Buffalo. He became a fan favorite, and was heralded as a local boy done good story. But he enraged Mets fans when he ripped the team coming out of Spring Training last season when he failed to make the squad. He refused assignment to the minors , and signed with the Phillies as free agent soon there after.He is currently vying for a spot in the Astros starting rotation.
And while you are getting ready for tonight’s Super Bowl – I” unfortunately be eating a apple ( damned diet !!) , just remember that there are just 54 Jerry Manuel ( hehe) days until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami and only 61 days until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn wants to grow his hair out like Troy Polamalu !!!!