04/05/2007 1:03 PM ET
Backman returns to pro dugout
Former Met standout to manage Albany, Ga. team
By Joey Wahler / SNY.tv
Wally Backman's stint as Diamondbacks manager lasted just four days. Bob Melvin was hired to replace him. (AP)

On the official list of all-time Major League managers, you could put an asterisk next to Wally Backman's name -- that is, if it were included, which it isn't. After all, he was hired as the Arizona Diamondbacks' skipper in November of 2004, though he never actually stepped foot into the dugout.

Now, after one of the strangest odysseys in managerial history, Backman is finally back. Back managing the South Georgia Peanuts of the independent South Coast League in Albany, Georgia.

"I'm excited to be back," said Backman, who spent nine years with the Mets, hitting a career-high .320 on their 1986 World Championship team. "It's kind of basically starting over, you know? I've sent a lot of stuff out to organizations with no real good response. And so I figured that, you know what? I want to stay in the game and get out and prove myself again.

"I know that I'm qualified to manage in the big leagues. I'm hoping for another opportunity at some point in time."

Four days after his introductory press conference in Phoenix, Backman was fired by the D-backs when his past legal problems -- that the team claimed it hadn't known about -- came to light. There was a 2001 DUI arrest in the state of Washington, and a 2002 arrest after an altercation at his home in Oregon.

After the resulting national publicity -- when a judge who had placed Backman on probation for the DUI learned he had since broken the law -- the former Met second baseman was arrested again, for violating the terms of his probation.

After going from pulling on an Arizona jersey to sitting in jail, what was going through Backman's mind during those turbulent times?

"To be honest with you, I was thinking about how I got screwed over, and how the Diamondbacks investigated something and had an in," Backman said. "And the reason I went to jail was that I was put on probation for nine years for a DUI, which is absolutely unheard of.

"And since the issue with the Diamondbacks, I re-hired another lawyer who got that probation thrown out. But the way that things were taking place and gone about, there was a lot more involved than just me.

"Somebody wanted to do something, I felt, that would sure up the chance that I wouldn't have that job with the Diamondbacks."

By now you may realize that Backman believes a conspiracy is to blame for his plight. As for further details, you'll have to wait for "Backman the manager" to become "Backman the author." Seriously.

"That's a whole other story, and I'm actually going to write a book," Backman revealed. "Absolutely, there's disappointment. Not blowing smoke up myself, but I know what I'm capable of doing. And if it's the reason I'm where I'm at, I'm hoping it's going to prove to organizations what I'm all about.

"There were way too many half-truths. A lot of lies came out of the Diamondbacks. That's a whole other issue. But I've been disappointed that I haven't had any response from any [other] organizations."

On the heels of a successful managerial career, Backman went from having the ultimate managing job -- in the majors -- to having no managing job at all. Anywhere. At any level. Not that he didn't try his best.

"I actually sent all my resumes out this year," Backman said. "And I only got answered back by about six organizations, which said they were full, which I respect them for that. But I don't respect the other ones when they don't send me anything back."

But what about the Mets? At Shea, Backman was a fan favorite as a diminutive, but scrappy overachiever, who thrived on superb fundamentals and constant hustle. Surely his former team had a spot for him somewhere?

"Never got anything back from 'em," Backman said. "Never have. I've sent my resume to them a few times."

Before hiring Willie Randolph as Met manager, Backman says, general manager Omar Minaya invited him to interview for the position. With the Arizona deal all but official, and his wife going through surgery at the time, Backman declined.

As for the Mets' failure to respond during the successive years, Backman says he doesn't know "if it's because I didn't interview when I was offered an interview from Omar. But nope, they don't have anything, and never answered my resume that I sent them this winter."

Going forward, Backman admits to his wrongdoing, but says that's all history now.

"I've made a couple mistakes," he said. "I had put it behind me, it was all stuff that happened when I was in independent ball, and I had put it behind me. I had put all that stuff in my past.

"And you know what? I'm not the only one that's made a couple mistakes like that. I feel like I'm being the one to pay the price for a lot of people that have had those problems, or made a few mistakes at the professional level."

After reaching baseball's mountaintop as a player, and coming very close to doing so as a manager, Backman is back to square one -- literally. There's no lower rung in pro baseball than the independent leagues, which are a long way from the bigs.

"I think my goal now, it was to get back, but now I have to focus on teaching and trying to help these kids get back to an organization, or get into an organization for the first time," Backman said. "That's my goal right now.

"What I do on the field, I'm not going to manage any differently. I'm not going to teach the kids any differently. I'm going to teach them just like they're in an organization, they are professionals. And that's the way they should be treated, like men."

Unlike many independent teams that stress winning above all else, Backman says the Peanuts are putting a premium on player development.

"What we're doing different is to try to get players back to an organization," Backman said. "We're filming them, doing all that kind of stuff, and sending those films out to the organizations so they can actually see the players for themselves before they decide that they're going to come out.

"So it's kind of fun, because we're all about helping the guys."

Backman already knows the satisfaction of seeing his former players reach the majors. He can point to Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand or Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, to name a few.

"Uggla was one guy that turned his career around with me when he came to Lancaster," Backman said.

"So nothing's going to change on my side, the way that I run a game, or work with my players. I've always taken a lot of pride in being able to teach players the right thing, and being able to put them in the right situation so they can succeed. So that's my focus right now."

As for having to come up the hard way, that's something Backman overcame as a player, lasting 14 seasons in the big leagues despite being just 5'9" and 160 pounds. He's hoping to use that pedigree to prove many doubters wrong again.

"I hope so," Backman said. "I was able to do it as a player, and now I've got to convince management, I guess it would be, to take another shot at me. Whoever decides to do that, it won't be a mistake for them, I know that."

The feedback Backman has received from Major League executives has been mostly positive, he says.

"I'd say 95 percent of them definitely think that I should be in the game," Backman said. "I only know of one that said that they wouldn't touch me."

Always something of a peanut as a player, Backman sees the opportunity with the Peanuts as a new audition for baseball's top decision makers.

"This is another start," he said. "I'm 47 years old. They all know what I'm capable of. If I have to prove it over again, I will."

Joey Wahler is a contributor to SNY.tv.
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