Just like he was as a .320 hitter for the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets, Wally Backman is a scrapper as a manager who expects to win every year. That's a good thing for the Buffalo Bisons, who are expecting the New York Mets to put a winner in town next season or they might be looking elsewhere for a new parent in 2013.
Backman knocked it out of the park with an energetic introductory press conference Thursday as the Mets and Bisons made it official that he is getting promoted from Double-A Binghamton to head the Herd in 2012.
"I'm not the business guy into all that type of stuff but every year I manage a team I expect to win" Backman said. "We've talked about it. I know it's the last year the contract is up. I think the new regime [headed by Mets GM Sandy Alderson] is trying to put a product on the field that at the upper levels that is going to compete all the time."
"It's pretty evident when you spend time with Wally that he's a very, very passionate person," said Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski. "High energy, loves baseball, loves talking baseball. Ultra competitive person."
The Mets certainly want to help Backman win. It's likely their going to stock the Herd with free agents, particularly in the bullpen and middle infield. They announced the re-signing Thursday of DH/1B Valentino Pascucci, Buffalo's MVP in 2011 and Backman revealed the Mets have signed catcher/left fielder Vinny Rottino, who .304 with 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases last year with New Orleans of the Marlins chain
Backman, 52, is entering his 10th managerial season and his third in the Mets organization. Overall, he has a record of 534-488 (.523) with two league championships in his career but his road to Buffalo has been a circuitous one. He was a rising star as a manager and was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004 -- only to be fired four days later when reports surfaced of a DUI, personal bankruptcy and an old assault charge from a friend of his wife.
Out of baseball for two years, he resurfaced with an independent league team in Albany, Ga. in 2007, then moved for two years in Joliet, Ill. The Mets rehired him in 2010 and he won a division title at Class A Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League. Backman's Binghamton team was 65-76 last year, riddled by callups to Buffalo, but finished the season 30-21.
"I am passionate about the game," Backman said. "I expect my players to take the games personal, the wins and the losses, and I expect them to be prepared to win every day."
The Bisons are going to have some stud starting pitching in 2012. Former No. 1 draft pick Matt Harvey pitched in Binghamton last year and so did Jeurys Familia, signed as an undrafted 18-year-old in 2007. They both could be here. Jenrry Mejia, felled by Tommy John surgery, could be back by the middle of the season. Zack Wheeler, acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, might get here at some point. Same for lefty Darin Gorski, who lit up the Florida State League.
"I want Familia, I want Harvey," Backmann said. "One of the two I'll have to fight for. I think one of the two I'll probably get. I believe they're both ready to come here."
Here's a pair of audio tracks from my post-news conference chat with Backman.