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
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."