Why the Obsession With Wally Backman

I know I show my age when I say I was very much alive and well when the Mets last won a World Series.  Not only that, I was alive and well sitting in Field Level at Shea Stadium during Game 7 of said World Series clinching championship.

I often say I was one of the lucky ones.  When I was old enough to understand what baseball actually was, the Mets were good.  Okay, scratch that.  They were f’ing awesomely amazing. I’ve stuck by the team because I know just how great the good times can be.  I will gladly go through the bad years if we have a team like the ’86 team again.

However, one of our very own teammates over here at the Korner asked me, matter of factly, why do Mets fans have this love for Backman?  Is it because of the ’86 team?

I will be honest.  Wally Backman was never ever one of my favorite players on the ’86 team.  It certainly did not mean I did not appreciate him.  If you read Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guy Won, Backman was paying his dues in the minor league system when Davey Johnson — future 1986 Mets’ manager and then the triple A manager in the Mets system — saw something Backman had that a lot of players didn’t.  He wasn’t the best hitter.  Sometimes wasn’t even the best fielder.  But he had grit.  He had potential.  And he’d take a bullet for his team.  Yes, before Derek Jeter coined the term “intangibles” himself, Backman exploited the very notion that all you had to do was have the will to be better than what you could possibly be.  Clearly, Davey Johnson, the best manager in Mets history (judging by his record alone), saw that this was more valuable than actually being the best second baseman in baseball (Ryne Sandberg, in my most humble opinion, of the Chicago Cubs was).

So why the obsession/love for Backman?  Personally, I think it has very little to do with his association with the 1986 team.  Okay, fine, it must have SOME bearing.  There’s more though.  Backman represents a piece of all of us.  He represents that none of us are perfect, since his personal life seems to be brought up more so than others.  He represents that even though as a player, you might not be the best, but you can be part of something special.  You can take yourself to the next level, if you believed you could do it.  He always busted his ass out there, every day he played.

Backman has taken his lumps and has paid his dues, over and over.  I’m sure most of us were raised with an honest hard-working ethic.  Backman never let himself be a victim: he worked hard in independent leagues to even get an interview with the Mets, let alone be given a second chance to get back into the business.  As a result his Brooklyn Cyclones team won their division in NY Penn League single A ball in 2010.

It’s been tough for Mets fans to identify with the teams in recent years, the way they’ve been constructed.  Bloggers have taken to the forefront of being the vocal mouthpieces of the fanbase.  In our quest for identity, the manager search remains a critical component of our voice.

Perhaps since Bobby Valentine, it’s been tough to identify with the field general of the Mets.  Let it be known, I am not one of those fans who believes the manager is a critical component to winning.  However, if our experience with Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel are evident, managers can easily lose games that are imminently winnable.  Someone needs to be in charge who has a game plan, focus, and clearly can LEAD and not just be a players’ manager.

I don’t believe Backman would lead the Mets to 90-win seasons every year.  What I do believe is that this team has lacked leadership, steady leadership, for almost a decade.  Look at David Wright and Jose Reyes, as examples.  They’re the most tenured every day players going into 2011, and they’ve had three managerial changes.  How can they be molded into the leaders of the future, when they are not being “led” themselves?

Wally Backman was once like them.  He had a good leader instill in him values that he can potentially pass on to his team, from Davey Johnson.  It’s clear he passed them on to teams he’s led.  As an example, Florida Marlins enemy Dan Uggla even so much as said he’d take a bullet for Backman, even to this day, and most of his teammates would.  If Backman is not chosen as the next Mets’ manager, well what can I say, the sun will come out and the sky will still be blue.  However, Backman should be given a chance to help mold young team players into becoming future Mets and future men, just like he was given a chance in the 1980s to play for the most revered team in Mets’ history.

I hope that clears things up for some of you young whipper snappers (yeah, I just said “whipper snapper” – ha ha).

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