Melvin, Acta were other finalists for job
PHOENIX -- Wally Backman was the scrappy, intense second baseman for the World Series champion New York Mets 18 years ago. He promises to bring that same style to the Arizona Diamondbacks as their new manager.
Backman, who took himself out of contention for the Mets managing job last week, was hired Monday to take over an Arizona team coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history.
"My style is hard, aggressive baseball," Backman said. "If my brother is second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and if it mans taking him out at second base, that's what I expect my players to do. That's the way we play the game."
Backman, 45, was selected minor league manager of the year this season by The Sporting News after leading Class A Lancaster to the best record in the California League (86-54). It was his first year in the Diamondbacks' organization.
"This is not a rebuilding program. I'm here to win. That's what I've always been about and that's what the Diamondbacks are about," Backman said. "And we will get back to the Diamondback ways of the past as soon as we possibly can. We will make some changes and this team will compete. That's one thing that every team that I've ever managed does."
Backman, 45, was given a two-year contract with two team options. He was chosen over former Seattle manager Bob Melvin and Montreal Expos third base coach Manny Acta.
Backman, an all-state wrestler as well as star baseball player at Aloha, Ore., High School, was a first-round draft pick of the Mets, the 16th selection overall. He played 14 seasons in the major leagues, the first nine with the Mets, and finished with a .275 career average with 240 RBIss and 117 steals.
"He expects to win. We expect to win," general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said, "and his players will understand that from the first day of spring training."
He takes over a franchise that dropped to 51-111 last season, the worst record in the seven-year history of the Diamondbacks, who won the World Series title in 2001. The losses matched the 10th-most in major league history.
Backman replaces Al Pedrique, who took over on an interim basis when Bob Brenly was fired in early July. Pedrique was one of eight candidates interviewed, a group that included former Diamondback Mark Grace.
Backman managed for seven seasons with the minors, beginning 27 games for Catskill of the independent Western League in 1997. He coached Bend and Tri-City of the independent Western League before joining the Chicago White Sox organization, where he managed Class A Winston-Salem in 2001 and Double-A Birmingham in 2002 and 2003. His 2002 team won the Southern League title.
Backman interviewed for the White Sox manager's job a year ago, then turned down an offer to return as Birmingham manager.
"He has a passion for this," Garagiola said. "Edge, attitude, call it what you want, but he's got it."
Diamondbacks general partner Ken Kendrick looked through his baseball card collection to find some of Backman.
"The very first one I found shows Wally taking out the catcher," Kendrick said. "It probably tells you all you need to know about this guy as a player."
Arizona is attempting to re-sign Richie Sexson, who played just 23 games last season because of a shoulder injury. The Diamondbacks must decide whether to keep left-hander Randy Johnson, who will earn $16 million next year, the final season of his contract.
Backman identified the team's biggest needs as starting pitching, a center fielder and someone to compete with Alex Cintron at shortstop, hinting that Cintron could be moved to second base.
Kendrick said he wants to keep Johnson, and that the team has money to spend, especially if Sexson doesn't re-sign.
"We're going to have money to spend that is greater than the money it took to win two out of the last three world championships," said Kendrick, one of the team's four managing partners. "We're not going to spend with the Yankees. We're not going to spend with the Red Sox."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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