Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wally Backman Continues to Prove Mets Management Correct

Over the last thousand posts here at Fonzie, you could probably count on one hand the number of entries devoted to discussing managerial issues. Why? It's not that I don't think managers are important -- but rather, we as outsiders really have no way of knowing which human being will do the best job managing our baseball club. We can dislike moves in isolation, or we can have broader complaints (bullpen management is a good example) but in general, we just do not have much information on which to base our opinions.

With managerial *candidates*, we know even less. In most cases, we haven't actually seen them manage. Most of what we know will come from published media, a few games a couple of years ago when they were a generic opposing manager, and perhaps some quotes from former players. And for candidates like Wally Backman who have never managed in the major leagues? We - and when I say we, I mean fans - know basically nothing.

None of this is to say that a first-time manager can't be effective. They can. Every man who we'd consider a stand-out or successful manager once had their *first* major league managerial gig. But the point is that, well, we don't know very much, so it doesn't make much sense to spend too much time debating the merits of various candidates.

And this is assuming, even, that who the manager is even makes a difference. I view managing in the same way that I view clutch hitting: there is no such thing as incredible-clutch-talent, but you most certainly CAN be a choke artist. In the same vein, I think that all managers are at the very tippy-top of their game and it makes no real difference who the manager is -- unless of course, you have the stinker. But I digress.[1]

Which brings me to Wally Backman, the former Met second baseman and current manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones who was recently passed over for the Mets managing vacancy. On Friday, the Daily News had an article entitled "Wally Backman says he can't believe Mets didn't choose him as new manager after interviews." In it, Backman makes a few statements which I thought were, in a word, noteworthy:
"I didn't think experience should have been a factor," Backman said. "Managing a game is managing a game, and I don't think it's different dealing with players whether it's the majors or the minors.

* * *

"It's all about motivating in different ways. You have 25 different personalities and you have to be a psychologist. If you're a people person, it's not that hard. I really enjoy that part of the job, and my players respond to it.

"And the whole New York thing, the media, I would think that would have been the least of their worries. I played there, I know what it's about. I know it can be good and bad, but that's part of the excitement of New York."
Wally may be right that managing in the major leagues wouldn't be a huge adjustment. He may also be right that as a 'people person' he would be able to manage the personalities of his players without incident. But for a man with a past as checkered as his own, statements like this made to the media help cement my opinion that Wally Backman wouldn't have been able to handle the heat in the New York media kitchen.

The best information on Wally Backman can be found at the Baseball Reference wiki. I'd suggest that anyone who has not yet read it get over there and skim the article before your next Wally Backman debate. From refusing to report to the minor leagues for a week as a player, to his conflicts with other players, to his DUI and domestic violence charge -- I find it indicative that he felt compelled to go to the media and comment on the outcome of his interview.

If you are interested in reading more about Backman, there were two interesting articles here and here at Amazin Avenue that provide good reasoning why Backman would have been a poor fit.

Of course, if learning about Backman and his troubled past hadn't already convinced you that he would be a bad fit for the Mets, this probably won't change your mind. But for me, quotes like the above are just proof positive that Backman would have been a mistake.

[1] Some interesting material on the topic can be found here at ESPN:

All of which begs the question: Just what kind of impact does a manager have on a team's performance anyway? In the essential 2006 book Baseball Between the Numbers, analyst James Click tried to tease some signs of managerial impact out of the statistical record but came up empty. After examining the measurable impact of in-game strategies (bunting, stolen bases, intentional walks), wins and losses relative to run differential, playing time distribution, in-game substitutions (pinch-hitters, relief pitchers, and defensive replacements), and direct impact on player performance (coaching), Click was unable to find evidence of a repeatable skill in any one of those five areas for any of the 456 managers he studied. That is to say that, much like clutch hitting, individual performances varied so much from season to season that the results appeared to be as much the result of chance as anything else.


Anonymous said...

I didn't read the article you suggested. How about I agree that he's a flawed individual? So who isn't?

LaRussa has DUI(s), Bobby Valentine had a nuclear meltdown his last year with the Mets (Did you think he handled NYC then?), and Ozzie Guillen is an angry, peurile, maniac.

So, if you are going to be consistent, you should say these guys should not be managing the Mets as well.

Anonymous said...

I have had dozens of interviews and I never had an interview where I did not think I was the best candidate for the job. But my guess is you Sabermetric bloggers never had an interview or a real job at all. Try it sometime. You are really obsessed with Backman, you should be out there coming up with fat catchers who walk a lot for google boy. Funny thing is that Collins said he was going to do everything Backman would have done, bunt, run, steal and hit and run and you either missed it or you are counting on the fat catcher to get on base first.

Brian Mangan said...

@Anonymous #1: I agree with you in principle. We do not know how those incidents reflect on people's characters in general. Could a DUI be a one-time lapse in judgment and totally out of character? Sure. Could an angry maniac like Ozzie somehow be a perfect fit as manager? Yes.

But the odds are that you can find a manager with similar qualities and similar strengths without those incidents on their record, and you can also find managers whose bad incidents are outliers. In the case of Wally, they seem like the rule, not the exception.

@Anonymous #2: I'm not obsessed with Backman, this is my first post about him. Nor would I even consider myself to be a "sabermetric blogger." But thanks for logging on and posting some insults.

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone realizes that MLB is running the Mets now. So when they trade your stars for some prospects, or pick up guys that make you scratch your head and bow to the altar of Sandy and Google boy, well the Wilpons are broke and you are on your way to the level of the Nationals..parity for the bankrupt as it were.

Doesn't it seem odd in retrospect that the Mess interviewed 12 managerial candidates and chose one based on "experience" as an MLB manager when 9 of the candidates had no MLB experience, one had already been rejected by 3 other teams this year, and not a single name brand experienced manager was in the mix?

MLB is creating their own small market team in Queens. You fans are no longer in the same market as the Yankees. Your like Royals fans. I suggest you watch some of the 1970's year book shows on SNY, you will get an insight into the waning days of the Payson era. You are in for a long ride that will only end when the Wilpons get bored or the stadium is empty for a few years, then add some real rebuilding years on to that.

acoustic567 said...

I agree with you. I am willing to overlook some past transgressions. But when Backman complained in the media about the Mets' decision to hire someone else, he showed stupefyingly bad judgment. That dumb move by him alone made me gald that the Mets did not make him their manager.

Anonymous said...


I think people lose sight of the fact that this is a baseball job. He's not looking to be in the ministry. Nor is he applying for a position where he's responsible for children.

Do you believe that all people with clean records have no skeletons? Some do, some don't. Plenty of people who are considered heroes--would be considered anything-but, if the truth came out. (Brett Favre?)

I believe even Bobby Cox has a not-so-pretty past.

What bothers me is that Backman's being made out to be some kind of axe-murderer, when what he's done is no different than most of his peers have done.