Passion is a powerful force. It 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, 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. Now, 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 him, transforming an otherwise stable person into a zealot. 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 Walter Wayne Backman manager. Three days later, on November 4, he 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. In 2007, Backman returned to manage the South Georgia Peanuts to the South Coast League. He won a championship and lost another measure of credibility. Backman allegedly physically attacked a minor league broadcaster for critical comments he made after one of Backman's on-field tantrums.
Five years later, in 2012, Backman was back in New York – Buffalo, New York – managing the Mets Triple-A affiliate, where he publicly exploded again. This time, Backman attacked Tony Beasley, the opposing manager, accusing the skipper of stealing signs. In 2013, he was suspended for two games by the Pacific Coast League for his participation in a bench-clearing brawl.
Backman has paid his dues, some say. He is loved by players and fans for his passion and will to win. He knows the pressure of playing in New York. But is that enough? Not for Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who trusts Backman about as much as Jesse Pinkman trusts Walter White.
Friends and colleagues have debated Wally Backman, a lot, over the last couple years. You can read their most recent thoughts here, and here, here and here. Save your words. The debate is over. Like it or not, as long as Alderson is leading the Mets, Backman will not be in consideration to manage the major league team.
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? The answer to that question is about as predictable as Heisenberg.