Ken Kendrick, one of the Diamondbacks’ controlling investors, dug through his extensive baseball-card collection Monday and found a 1980s Wally Backman edition. It shows Backman plowing into a catcher.
Kendrick brought the card to Monday's news conference announcing Backman as the Arizona's new manager, because it shows what Kendrick called a “hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners kind of player” — the style that made Backman an appealing choice for the D-Backs.
“Edge, attitude — call it what you want, but he's got it,” general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said.
Wearing a No. 6 D-Backs jersey and his World Series ring from the 1986 New York Mets at a news conference in the Bank One Ballpark home clubhouse, Backman declared, “This is not a rebuilding program. I'm here to win. That's what I've always been about. That's what the Diamondbacks are about. And we will get back to the Diamondbacks ways of the past as soon as we possibly can. We will make some changes, and this team will compete.”
Arizona went 51-111 this year, the worst record in the National League in 39 years. But the D-Backs have given Backman, 45, a mandate not to accept poor play, and he insisted the team will contend in 2005.
Kendrick said Diamondbacks management was unanimous in its choice of Backman — who was named 2004 minor league manager of the year by The Sporting News for his work at Class A Lancaster and has been in the D-Backs organization less than a year — from eight candidates, including two other finalists (Manny Acta and Bob Melvin).
Backman was given a two-year contract, worth about $1 million, with team options for 2007 and 2008.
“I've got nothing but the best to say about that guy,” said Conor Jackson, a D-Backs prospect who played for Backman this year.
“He's definitely a players’ manager. When you're winning it's great, and when you make mental mistakes out there, he'll get on you. He'll get on you quick. I loved playing for him. He's one of those guys I'd go to war with.”
Said Carlos Quentin, another Lancaster player: “He knows a lot about the game. I loved talking to him about hitting, situations. He's a players’ manager but not afraid to lay into the team if he feels like you're not working hard. He does it in the right way. . . . He handles people very well. He cares about his players . . . I don't think a player from when I was on the team didn't love him.”
Backman earned six ejections and two suspensions at Lancaster.
“He's a fireball,” Jackson said. “He's a bulldog out there. Most of those ejections, he was backing us up. He just basically got tossed so we didn't get tossed. You've got to love that.
“If it's a bad call, before you've even got a chance to say anything to an umpire, (Backman) is in his face. You've got to love playing for a guy like that.”
Said Backman: “I will do everything that I possibly can to keep my player in the game.”
Asked to describe his managerial style, Backman mentioned things he had picked up from managers he played for in a 14-year major league career: communication style from Jim Leyland, use of statistics (especially in regards to bullpen management) and handling the spotlight from Davey Johnson, fire from Lou Piniella.
“It's an aggressive style, it's an educated style,” Backman said. “We will run, we will hit-and-run in certain situations.”
Backman might not have had the opportunity but for a series of events. He managed last year for the Chicago White Sox in Class AA and was interviewed for the team's major league job. When Chicago hired Ozzie Guillen, Backman declined to return to Birmingham, Ala.
So in February, he was out of a job. But Eddie Rodriguez, who was reassigned from Diamondbacks third-base coach to Lancaster manager, took a job as Montreal's bench coach, providing a late opening for Backman.
“He's at the right point in his career,” Garagiola said, “and we are at the right point in our history, for him to be our manager.”