Wally Backman, the former Met great who became the most-popular manager in Brooklyn Cyclones history when he led the team to one of its best regular-season finish last year only to fall short in the playoff finals, will not get a chance to finish the job, as the Mets organization has tragically named him skipper of the Class AA Binghamton squad.
Backman’s team led the New York–Penn League last year with a 51–24 record, just percentage points off the record set by the inaugural Cyclones in 2001.
The team’s 30-8 home record ensured that Backman would be a beloved figure at MCU Park, but his antics outside the baselines — mostly consisting of abusing umpires — didn’t hurt, either.
He was also well liked by the legion of reporters who travel with the team, mostly because of his memorable interviews — including one in which he famously lied to this reporter, the dean of the Cyclones press corps, that he was not being considered for the top job on the Mets weeks before the team fired unsuccessful skipper Jerry Manuel last year.
Backman was, indeed, a finalist for that job — though at the time, he claimed that he and Mets owner Jeff Wilpon were merely meeting to discuss renovations to 10-year-old MCU Park.
Backman, an Oregon native who was a linchpin on the 1986 World Champion Mets, could not be reached on deadline to talk about his new position in upstate New York, but he issued a statement through his new club that echoed his aggressive approach to the game that he employed in Coney Island.
“It’s all based on fundamentals,” he said. “If the players buy into the system, we’re going to be good in Binghamton. I like to win. It’s still about development, but I believe winning is part of development.”
In promoting Backman, the Mets organization ignored the advice of its fan base. In a post-season poll on BrooklynPaper.com last year, 70 percent of respondents recommended elevating Backman to the top job in Flushing while 25 percent demanded Backman’s return to Brooklyn to finish the only baseball job that matters: winning a New York–Penn League championship.
Five percent of respondents wanted Backman fired entirely.
Backman’s legacy in Brooklyn is vast. His star, Darrell Ceciliani ended the season with a league-leading .351 batting average. Slugger Cory Vaughn set new franchise marks in home runs (14) and RBIs (56). And, of course, the team led the league in attendance for the 10th straight year.
It’s unclear who will helm the Cyclones this season. Blog reports claim that the Mets have named Pirate insider Rich Donnelly, but the Cyclones would not confirm that on Wednesday. The Mets organization typically brings in a former Met to helm the Mini-Amazin’s. In the past, Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson have been skippers.