'86 Mets honored; Backman still dealing with disgrace
Backman received a warm welcome as he joined most of his teammates from the 1986 Mets on the field at Shea Stadium for an anniversary celebration before Friday night's game against the Rockies. He made his way through the stands along the third-base line, giving high-fives as fans cheered despite a steady rain.
Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson and Howard Johnson got the loudest applause as they made their way through the crowd, which chanted "Lenny! Lenny!" for Dykstra and thundered "Mookie!" when Wilson was introduced.
While many of his former teammates still work in baseball, Backman is trying to get back on the field after an embarrassing episode in 2004. Arizona hired him as manager in November 2004 then dismissed him four days later because of evidence that arose from off-the-field problems, including two arrests and several financial problems.
Time has done nothing to change how the fiery Backman feels about what happened, saying Arizona handled the situation extremely poorly.
"That's basically the way that I feel and that won't change," Backman said. "The stuff that they put my family through, so many half-truths, the way the media took care of that in Arizona. & It was very unprofessional."
Backman, who hit .320 with one homer and 27 RBI in 1986, was a minor-league manager for seven seasons, including 2004 in the Diamondbacks' organization when he was The Sporting News' minor league manager of the year at Class-A Lancaster.
Arizona would have been the first major-league managing job for Backman, a second baseman who played 14 seasons. Backman said he talked to some teams at baseball's winter meetings and hopes to get a job with a club in the next year, but what happened with Arizona has damaged his reputation.
"It was bad," he said. "I mean you can see today. I'm not in the game and I should be in the game. I really feel I should be in the game and I'm sure that somebody's going to give me an opportunity."
Backman was arrested in 2001 after a fight at his home involving his wife and one of her friends in Prineville, Ore. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to 12 months' probation, ordered to undergo an anger management evaluation and donate $1,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club.
Backman also was arrested, and later convicted, on a driving under the influence charge in Kennewick, Wash., in 2000. He also has had financial problems, filing for bankruptcy several years ago.
He has the support of at least one of his former teammates. Mookie Wilson, whose roller through the legs of Boston's Bill Buckner in Game 6 is the lasting image from the 1986 World Series, said Backman deserves to be back in the game.
"If he doesn't get back on the field, baseball would be losing a great baseball person," Wilson said, "whether it be coaching or managing, I don't know what his plans are. & He has the respect of everyone."
Wilson hit .289 with 45 RBI and 25 stolen bases as the Mets won a club-record 108 games in the regular season in 1986, winning the NL East by 21 ½ games. They won a thrilling NLCS against the Houston Astros, then lost the first two games of the World Series at home before recovering to beat the Red Sox in seven.
"We definitely didn't take anything lightly when we stepped on the field," said Strawberry, who hit 27 homers and drove in 93 runs in 1986. "We were about business when we stepped on the field. We had a swagger about ourselves."
Strawberry and World Series MVP Ray Knight homered in New York's 8-5 victory over Boston in Game 7. Knight, manager Davey Johnson and pitcher Dwight Gooden were among the notable absences from the reunion.
Johnson is managing the U.S. national team in an Olympic qualifying tournament that starts Friday in Havana and the Mets said Knight had a prior commitment. Gooden is in a Florida prison for violating his probation by using cocaine.
Since 1986, much has been written about the hard-partying club but Wilson said it can't take away from what the team accomplished.
"It doesn't distort what this team has done," Wilson said. "I think no one can deny what this team has done. Regardless of the reputation that, whatever, people assume it has or whatever, it was a great team and I think history speaks for itself."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press