The Mets need to win 13 times in their final 18 games in order for Jerry Manuel to avoid concluding his career as the team’s skipper with a losing record. While Manuel’s future with the organization technically has not been decided, the Mets cannot possibly re-sign him.
After succeeding Willie Randolph midway through the 2008 season, Manuel guided the Mets to 48 wins in his first 69 games at the helm and first place in the National League East Division by 3 1/2 games by mid-September. However, beginning with losses in 17 of the final 24 games in 2008 – a collapse that left the Mets out of the playoffs by one game, Manuel has posted a mark of 148-182.
While not everything that has befallen the Mets since mid-September of 2008 is the fault of Manuel, his impact on the team has been minimal at best. Day-to-day intensity seemingly has been missing from the team during his reign, and that deficiency needs to be addressed when contemplating his successor.
Among other things, intensity is what former Met Wally Backman brings to the table.
A member of the 1986 World Series-winning team, Backman arguably has become better know in recent years for his fiery on-field antics as a minor league manager. Before that, he was known as the guy hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks in November of 2004 only to have that decision reversed days later when his legal troubles and financial woes surfaced.
Since the dark days that followed his abrupt firing in 2004, Backman has authored an inspiring comeback. With his managerial career seemingly in ruin, Backman took a job as skipper of the South Georgia Peanuts of the independent South Coast League in 2007. He guided the Peanuts to a league-best mark of 59-28 and captivated viewers of the television show “Playing for Peanuts” with some legendary ejections. Backman took another managerial position in the independent Northern League but with different results, and he was fired midway through the 2009 campaign.
The Mets then offered Backman the opportunity to return to the affiliated ranks, and the results have been impressive. With Backman calling the shots, the Brooklyn Cyclones posted the best record (51-24) in the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League this past season. The Cyclones currently are playing in the league’s championship series.
A championship ring, even if it is attained at the lower levels of Minor League Baseball, would represent a conquering of adversity for Backman. It just so happens that the Mets also will be looking to overcome adversity in 2011, following quite possibly their first consecutive losing seasons of the post-Art Howe era.
Backman’s unique collection of attributes seems like a good fit for a Mets team in need of motivation to turn things around. Backman’s ride in professional baseball certainly has been a rollercoaster, and his blend of experiences coupled with a tenacious, no-excuses personality should provide a jolt to a team that appeared to play with a lack of urgency in 2010.
In addition to providing a link to the franchise’s former glory, a contagious intensity level and a symbol of adversity overcome, Backman has a resume that includes a Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year award. He earned that following an 86-54 campaign as skipper of the Diamondbacks’ advanced Class A affiliate in 2004.
Other likely job suitors have what Backman does not – experience at the major league level. Joe Torre’s accomplishments need no introduction, and Bobby Valentine has over 1,100 wins in the majors in addition to a distinguished career in Japan. He also was at the helm the last time the Mets went to the World Series. ESPN viewers likely would endorse Valentine as the next manager for the Mets because it would bring a merciful end to his gig as a baseball analyst for the network. Bob Melvin, who emerged as skipper of the Diamondbacks after Backman was dismissed in 2004, has nearly 500 managerial wins under his belt and former Met Lee Mazzilli managed the Baltimore Orioles in 2004 and the first 107 games of 2005.
Backman also will receive hearty competition from his peers within the Mets organization. Tim Teufel, who also was a member of the 1986 World Series team, managed at Double-A Binghamton this season and Ken Oberkfell has spent the last two years at Triple-A Buffalo. Oberkfell guided the Bisons to a 76-68 mark in 2010, his 16th season as a minor league manager.
In all likelihood, Backman will be a dark horse in a crowded field of candidates to become the 20th manager in Mets history. Most, if not all, would be considered safer choices than Backman. With the team in need of fearless leadership from the dugout, however, the Mets would be wise not to play it safe this time.
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