Sep 21, 2016

1986 World Champion Mets Second Baseman & Current Mets Coach: Wally Backman (1980-1988)

Walter Wayne Backman was born September 22, 1959 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Wally Backman's dad played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization during the sixties.

Wally was drafted in the first round (16th pick overall) of the 1977 draft by the New York Mets. He hit over .280 every season in the minors and his defense improved, making him a fine defensive second baseman.

His scrappy style of play is what made him so desirable. He would do anything to get on a base, a slap hitter who could bunt well, draw walks & get hit by pitches. His uniform usually got dirty from sliding and being a pest on the base paths.

He began as a September call up in 1980, getting a base hit driving in a run in his first career at bat. He would hit.323 (30-93) with 9 RBIs in 27 games. Backman’s early years as a Met were filled with drama at times & it was tough for him to get a starting job. At the start of his career, Doug Flynn was the Mets Gold Glove second baseman & a favorite of manager Joe Torre.

Backman got sent to Triple A- Tidewater in June 1981, becoming irritated that the Mets were trying to turn him into a utility infielder. He refused to report for six days, giving him a bad reputation with the organization. But in the winter of 1981 the Mets traded Flynn and Backman was the 1982 Opening Day second baseman.

Then, more drama as he fell off a bicycle ending his season, and soon losing his job to Brian Giles in 1983. At AAA Tidewater he had impressed his manager Davey Johnson with his style of play and his hitting, batting .316. When Johnson took over as the Mets manager, he made Backman his 1984 second baseman.

On April 18th with the Mets down to the Montreal Expos 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th Backman came to bat with two men on. He doubled home Daryl Strawberry & John Gibbons with an exciting walk off Mets win. 

On July 2nd in a game at Shea against the Houston Astros he had three hits & drove in three of the Mets four runs in their 4-2 victory. On July 23rd Backman had another walk off game winning hit, this one against the Cardinals off former Met Neil Allen.

On July 27th he helped Dwight Gooden to a four hit win, when he singled home what was the game winning run in the 7th inning against Dick Ruthven & the Chicago Cubs. On July 31st he peaked out with a .300 batting average.

On August 17th Dwight Gooden & the Giants Mike Krukow had a classic shut out pitcher's duel going through nine innings in San Francisco. In the top of the tenth Backman hit his only HR of the season, a two run shot winning it for New York.

In 1984, Backman was the Mets leadoff hitter for most of the year, batting .280 with a career high 32 stolen bases, only getting thrown out nine times. He posted a .339 on base percentage with 122 hits, 56 walks,19 doubles 68 runs scored and 21 RBIs. 

Backman still wasn't sure if he would remain on the team the next season. In his personal life he spent the year living in a mobile home with his wife & daughter at a campsite in West Milford, NJ.

By 1985 Backman was having a real problem hitting left-handers, so manager Davey Johnson platooned him with Kelvin Chapman. Chapman didn’t hit at all, so Backman got his job back at second base, playing in 145 games hitting .273 with a career high 142 hits, 24 doubles, five triples & 38 RBIs.

He was still batting leadoff at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on he settled into the two spot. He posted a .320 on base percentage and drew fewer walks (36) but still stole 30 bases. Backman hit real well over the summer, starting out in July with a ten game hit streak.

That August he posted a 14 game hit streak. During that stretch he hit safely in 23 of 25 games. His problem was hitting left hand pitchers, that season against left-handers he only hit .155. So for the 1986 season, Tim Teufel was brought in from Minnesota to platoon with him at second base.

In the 1986 Championship season, Backman had a great start to the season & never looked back. Backman was platooned with Tim Teufel most of the season, but the second base spot seemed to be more effective when Backman played. He proved to be a perfect #2 hitter, usually behind the leadoff man Lenny Dykstra .

The two gritty players became known as the "Wild Boys", always playing in dirty uniforms & spitting out chewing tobacco. But most importantly, they were always getting on base setting the table for the big bats in the mighty line up.

On July 17th in Houston, Backman had a huge day, gathering up three hits while driving in five runs in the Mets 13-2 rout over the Astros. It was on this road trip to Houston, that Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Rick Aguilera & Tim Teufel got arrested after a night club altercation with off duty Houston Police officers posing as bouncers.

On August 10th Backman broke a 2-2 tie in Montreal with a 7th inning single off Dennis Martinez. He later drove in a 9th inning run as well in the Mets 7-2 win over the Expos.

 On September 27th, his 27th birthday, Backman hit his only HR of the season. It came off the St. Louis Cardinals Bob Forsch in a 5-2 Mets win.

Backman led the 1986 Mets team in hitting with a .320 batting average, & was the only other player besides Keith Hernandez to hit over .300. Backman posted a .376 on base percentage, scoring 67 runs, while stealing 13 bases. He hit one HR with 18 doubles & 27 RBIs playing in 124 games. His 14 sac hits were third best in the National League, Wally was a very dangerous bunter as well. At second base he posted a .966 fielding % & helped turn over 56 double plays.

Post Season: Backman had a fantastic 1986 NLCS, and was in the middle of a lot of important moments. 

In Game #2 at the Houston Astro Dome he singled off Nolan Ryan in the 4th inning & then scored on Gary Carter's RBI double. It was the Mets first run of the Series. 

In the 5th he singled home Bobby Ojeda with a base hit advancing to second base putting New York up 3-0 in the 5-1 win.

With the series tied at one game a piece, the Mets were losing Game #3 by a score of 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Backman led off the inning and dragged a bunt down the first-base line As Astros first baseman Glenn Davis fielded it, Backman lunged past him into foul territory and slid safely into first base. 

Astros manager Hal Lanier argued that Backman had run out of the base path, but to no avail, he was ruled safe. Two batters later, Lenny Dykstra hit a now famous Mets walk off, game-winning HR to give the Mets the big victory.

In the great Game #5, Backman led off the bottom of the 12th with an infield hit, and then advanced to second on an errant pick-off attempt by Astro pitcher Charlie Kerfeld.

 Backman then came around to score the winning run on a single by Gary Carter, who had been in a slump since his game #2 double. It was another classic '86 Mets come back. (centerfieldmaz was in attendance at Shea that day).

In the classic Game #6, Backman did not start the game, but entered in the 9th inning as a pinch hitter for Tim Teufel. In the top of the 14th inning with two men on, he singled off Aurelio Lopez bringing home Daryl Strawberry with the go ahead run. Jesse Orosco would serve up a HR to Billy Hatcher in the bottom of the inning to tie it.

In the top of the 16th the Mets regained the lead on a Daryl Strawberry double & a Ray Knight single. Backman reached base on a walk, & later scored on Len Dykstra's single. Backmans run prove to be the game winner as the Astros scored two runs in the bottom of the inning. Overall in the NLCS Wally was 5-21 with a pair of walks, five runs scored & two RBIs. 

In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, he got his first start in Game #2 and had a hit off both Roger Clemens & Bob Stanley.

 In Game #3 at Fenway Park he singled to right field in the 1st inning & scored on a Gary Carter double putting the Mets up 2-0 in the first series game they would win that year. The next night Backman had two more hits & did not play in Game #5.

In Game #6 Backman had an early hit, then he made the first out of the 10th inning before the famous Mets comeback rally. He came in as a pinch runner for Tim Teufel in the 6th inning of Game #7 and scored the go ahead run at the time on Gary Carters RBI force out. 

Overall in the 1986 World Series he batted .33 (6-18) with an RBI & a stolen base, scoring four runs.

Backman slumped in 1987, hitting just .250 as he battled lingering hamstring injuries. Meanwhile, Tim Teufel was playing very well at second base, hitting .308 with 14 HRs 29 doubles & 61 RBIs.

Drama: During the season Backman had a run-in with Mets All Star, Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry claimed he had a virus & pulled himself out of a crucial game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile he had spent the earlier part of the day recording a rap song.

Quotes: Backman said "Nobody I know gets sick 25 times a year." Strawberry's response to Backman's remark was "I'll bust that little redneck in the face." So was the drama of the mid to late eighties Mets.

The Mets finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals that year & Backman hit .250 with one HR six doubles a .307 on base % & 23 RBIs in 94 games.

By 1988 manager Davey Johnson was questioning Backman's spirit & commitment to the team. He made Tim Teufel the regular second baseman during spring training. Backman accepted his role and set out to prove something to his manger & his team. After struggling to get above the .200 mark in mid May, he went on a hitting tear in June. 

He hit safely in 15 of 17 games winning back his position by midsummer. In July he had six multi hit games & was batting .300 by August. He began the month with a six game hit streak where he had ten hits in 17 at bats.

He missed two weeks of action in early September but returned for the Mets NL Eastern clinching. He ended the regular season by driving in runs in three straight games he played in the last week.

He finished the season batting .303 with his best on base percentage since his first season (.388%) playing in 99 games, with 12 doubles, nine stolen bases & 44 runs scored.

Post Season: In the 1988 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he went hit-less in the first two games. In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, Backman tied the game with a 6th inning single off Orel Hershiser. In the Mets 8-4 win, Backman went 2-4 with a run scored & two RBIs.

Backman had one hit in Game #5 & two hits in Game #6. In Game #7 he had one of the five Mets hits off Orel Hershiser in the Mets 6-0 upset loss. Overall Backman hit .273 going 6-22 against Dodger pitching in the NLCS. 

 In December 1988 with Greg Jeffries & Keith Miller waiting in the wings, Backman was traded to the Minnesota Twins for three minor league prospects who never quite made it.

Backman injured his shoulder having two stints on the disabled list, and hit just .231 that season. He signed as a free agent with the 1990 Pirates and platooned at third base with Jeff King.

On April 27, 1990, ina game against the San Diego Padres, he became the first player since 1975, to gather six hits in a game. In Pittsburgh he enjoyed beating his old Mets team mates, as the Pirates won the 1990 Eastern Division. He went 1-7 in the NLCS against the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds.

Backman then bounced to the Philadelphia Phillies as a reserve player (1991-1992) & Atlanta Braves for Spring Training 1993 but then got released. He was signed by the Seattle Mariners for ten games in 1993, before being released that May. In a 14 year career Backman hit .275 with 893 hits 10 HRs, 138 doubles, 19 triples, 240 RBIs stole 117 bases 482 runs scored & a .349 on base %..

Honors: Backman was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. He was at the 20th Anniversary for the 1986 Mets, as well as the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

Retirement: Backman was a successful manager for seven years in the minor leagues. His managing style was similar to his playing style- fiery and combustible, with a history of ejections, on-field tantrums, and suspensions.

He was the top candidate to take over Jerry Manuel's job with the Chicago White Sox, but when the team discovered he openly rooted against them so Manuel would be fired, they cut ties with him.

In 2004 he was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, getting named The Sporting News' Minor League Manager of the Year. The Arizona organization liked what he had done so much, On November 1, 2004, they hired him as the Diamondbacks new manager.

The next day reports became public that he was convicted of DUI in 2000, pleaded guilty to harassing a female friend, beat his ex-wife & had filed for bankruptcy. The job fell through as the Diamondbacks cut ties with him as well.

In 2010 he got a chance in Mets organization & did a great job as manager of their A ball team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. Backman even coached third base to be involved in the action. He had his players on the edge of the dugout cheering on the team.

Backman went on to lead the Cyclones to a league-best 51-24 record, winning the McNamara Division of the New York-Penn League by 12 games. He lead them to the NY/ Penn. League championship series but got swept in the final series. In 2011 he was a candidate for the Mets managers job replacing Jerry Manuel but Terry Collins got the position instead.

Backman went on to manage the AA Binghamton Mets & then got promoted to the AAA Buffalo Bisons in 2012. That year his club went 67-76, the next year they became the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 2013 Backman moved over to the Mets new AAA affiliate, the Las Vegas 51's. 

Trivia: The Las Vegas 51's take there name from the famous "Area 51" which is a US Military base located 80 miles from Las Vegas. The secrecy of its affairs has created folklore having to do with aliens & UFO's.

Backman along with pitching coach Frank Viola have taken the 51's to a first place finish. 

 Backman is once again highly regarded within the Mets organization & in baseball. Many of the players he managed & helped develop, are now joining the ranks of the Mets big league club with high praises of their former manager.

In late September of 2014 Backman joined the Mets big league staff as a guest coach in the dugout. The Mets have announced Terry Collins will be the teams manager in 2015. But there is talk Tim Tuefel will move over from third base to hitting coach & Backman will fill in as third base coach.

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