- Ray Ratto
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Wally Backman's first, and now last, bit of fun as the new manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks was to get hit over the head with his background.
Now he probably should have seen that coming in our new nothing's-secret-ever media age, but since his new employers didn't either, he clearly figured, "Well, if they're happy, I'm happy."
Either way, you knew that this quote would be wrapped around a brick and hurled at him during his brief tenure with the Diamondbacks:
"They probably should have asked me about it, and I probably should have brought it up."
"It," in this case, was Backman's divoted past, in which he plead guilty to fourth-degree assault after an altercation with a female friend in 2001, was convicted of driving while under the influence that same year, and filed for bankruptcy a year ago.
Ultimately, the Diamondbacks agreed with Backman, albeit belatedly, and shared his embarrassment by whacking him Friday morning, three days after hiring him. And they'd better put him on their list of all-time managers, too, as a reminder of what happens when you hire people while your cab is waiting outside.
The Diamondbacks failed in the due diligence portion of their end of business, given that they didn't know about any of these items until they read them in The New York Times. I mean, those are kind of useful details to have ahead of time, and painful ones to have to read about in the nation's best paper.
But the Diamondbacks knew what they wanted, and knew who they wanted, so a background check was no more a hurdle for them than interviewing a minority candidate as required by a commissioner's edict was for the Detroit Tigers was when they hired Phil Garner in 2000.
The Snakes simply wanted Backman, and that was that.
That isn't the only Garnerian parallel, either. Like Garner, who took the Detroit job and quickly found out that winning was not only not a priority but not a possibility, Backman was to have inherited a situation that has blue steam coming off it. The Backs lost 111 games, are likely to lose first baseman Richie Sexson, are looking to make a better deal for Randy Johnson than the mess they made of the Curt Schilling deal, and in any event are an estimated $300 million in debt, which explains all of the above.
It also explains another reason why Backman was so attractive to them. His two-year deal, which includes two one-year club options, turned out to be shorter than expected. Given that his salary, a reported $500,000 in 2005, would have ranked at the very low-end on the major-league managerial scale, the severence package for four days of work should be relatively small, as well.
No, Backman came with a history for working well with young players, for managing with an Earl Weaverian fire, and for not having a major-league comparison point. This was his first big league managing job, and though he faced working with both hands and a foot tied behind his back, he was willing to hop on the job.
If that makes him desperate, well, define it as you will.
It also made the Diamondbacks desperate, no matter how you define it. Even with new owners and the dewy-eyed optimism new owners always seem to have, they also have the kind of debt load that makes even the most strident agnostic see Jesus riding shotgun. Thus, they weren't going to spend a single dollar they didn't have to spend, for a manager.
Or a Lexis-Nexis search, for that matter.
It's hard times in the low desert, and both Backman and the Diamondbacks know it.
There's an anger-management joke in there somewhere, but taste requires that we forgo it.
No, if there is a point here (and you regulars know that is rarely a deal-breaker in this squalid little corner of the Internet), it is that nothing stops a team from hiring the guy it wants if that guy meets the criteria. In this case, a guy who wouldn't ask for a huge amount of money, a guy who would be fiendish in pursuit of not stinking the joint out, and a guy whose background never mattered until it mattered.
Now they have to hire a NEW new manager. One, we suspect, will have to turn over legal, medical, dental and fourth grade records before the first interview. They're going to due-diligence the hell out of this guy, all because they didn't think they needed to the first time.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
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