Passion is a powerful force that reveals the extremely fine line between good and evil; friend and foe; master and slave. Passion turned Walter While, your average high school science teacher into Heisenberg, a maniacal drug-dealing assassin in khakis and a pork pie hat. Passion is Walter Wayne Backman’s worst enemy and slim hope.
Backman’s 14-year major league career ended two decades ago, but his passion for the game of baseball has not died, In fact, it’s living in Las Vegas. The former New York Mets second baseman has been kicking and screaming – literally – as a minor league manager since 1997. Backman has served eight years between the Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks organizations and another seven years in Independent League baseball.
His managerial track record has been marked by great promise and devastating heartbreak.
Backman’s passion to win is his greatest asset. Ask his New York Met teammates in the 80s. He was a hard-nosed player. Backman loved to win and, deep down, he and his Mets teammates in the 80s enjoyed sticking it to the opponent.
“When we lost a game, we took it personally,” Backman told Peter Golenbeck for Amazin’, the Mets oral history. “We never expected to lose. We were cocky, arrogant.”
Backman’s neck is thick and his waistline has expanded. At age 53, his salt-and-pepper hair suggests maturity. The cocky, arrogant attitude of the 80s has been replaced with experience and sage advice for young, hungry baseball players. Baseball is a game. Backman no longer takes losing personally, right? A loss is an opportunity to learn, right?
Wrong … and wrong. Backman is still possessed by winning. Passion consumes Backman, transforming an otherwise stable person into a zealot. Throughout his managerial career Backman has proved to be consistently inconsistent. His combustible nature reveals a track record filled with suspensions, temper tantrums, ejections and poor judgment.
Life began Breaking Backman in Birmingham. A decade ago, as the 2003 Chicago White Sox were spinning out of control, losing 10 of their last 18 regular season games and the AL Central, Wally pumped his fist in approval hoping then-manager Jerry Manuel’s loss would win him a MLB managerial job. When the Sox caught wind of the news that Backman was openly rooting against the organization, he given a pink slip.
Off-the-field, Backman’s personal life was quietly self-destructing. He was convicted of DUI (2000), pled guilty to harassment charges (2001), accused of spousal abuse (2002) and filed for bankruptcy (2003). No one paid much attention to Backman’s transgressions – until November 2004. After leading the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class A Lancaster JetHawks to the California League title, Backman was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.
His success earned him major league interviews with the Mets and Diamondbacks. On November 1, 2004, the Diamondbacks named Backman manager. Three days later, on November 4, Backman was fired. His dream of being a major league manager came true, and in the blink of an eye, was wiped out.
Backman spent the next two years broke and out of baseball. His name, destroyed for the time being.
He returned to managing in 2007, but inside of organized baseball, guiding the South Georgia Peanuts to the South Coast League‘s inaugural title. However, his season was marked for a disgraceful incident in which it was alleged in the media that Backman had physically attacked a young broadcaster for the Anderson Joes after he had criticized one of Backman’s on-field tantrums.
Backman interviewed for the Mets’ 2011 managerial opening, losing out to Terry Collins, and in 2012 moved up to the AAA Buffalo Bisons, another step closer to his dream job. On August 3rd, however, he was up to his old tricks in a game against the Syracuse Chiefs when he violently confronted opposing manager Tony Beasley and accused him of stealing signs.
The New York Post reported, Backman have his “hand forced” to leave the organization if he’s not offered the major league managerial position or at least a spot on next year’s coaching staff. The Mets have not yet discussed with Backman a potential role for next season.
As long as Sandy Alderson is general manager, Backman will not receive serious consideration as a managerial candidate. He will need to leave the Mets organization if he wants to coach (or manage) at the major league level. Even then, is there another major league team interested in hiring a 53-year old man with no major league managerial experience and a reputation for instability on and off the field?
Backman has paid his dues, some say. But is that enough?
Backman may be loved by players and fans for his passion and will to win, but entering the elite group of 30, requires a high level of character. Today’s MLB managers must be able to “manage” the game off the field too. That means scrutiny. Backman knows the pressure of playing in New York.
Trust is not in Backman’s vocabulary.