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 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 DBacks have given Backman, 45, a mandate not to tolerate losing, 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.
Backman was given a twoyear contract, worth about $1 million, with team options for 2007 and 2008.
"He played all-out all the time, and he was a smart player," said former Mets teammate Ed Lynch, a special assistant to the general manager for the Chicago Cubs.
"He was not a gifted defensive player, but through sheer will he made himself a solid, average major league second baseman. He was a cerebral player with some ability."
Lynch saw a number of Lancaster games this year and said Backman got the most out of his players.
"It was pretty clear to me Wally was two or three steps ahead of the other manager," Lynch said. "The one thing that Wally does very well is handle a pitching staff. That’s one of Wally’s fortes. And he knows how to handle players. His communication skills are very good."
Baseball America named Lancaster, which won the first- and second-half titles in the California League’s Southern Division and lost the championship series in the final game, its minor league team of the year.
"I’ve got nothing but the best to say about that guy," said D-Backs prospect Conor Jackson.
"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.
"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
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."
The organization will work on a coaching staff this week.
Backman said he has some people in mind he would like to consider. He met Monday with two of the 2004 coaches, Glenn Sherlock and Tommy Jones, and will meet today with Al Pedrique and Mark Davis.
Pedrique, the interim manager who was interviewed for the permanent job, is expected to return as a coach.
"Al was called on to fill in in a very difficult set of circumstances and really performed admirably," Kendrick said. "We respect him for what he did and we appreciate him for who he is."
An industry source said former Diamondbacks infielder Jay Bell is a possibility for a spot on the staff.
Mark Grace, one of the eight original candidates to manage the D-Backs, may be considered for the Lancaster job.
It took a series of coincidences for Backman to come to Arizona. 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."
Born: Sept. 22, 1959, in Hillsboro, Ore.
Height, weight: 5-foot-9, 185 pounds
Resides: Prineville, Ore.
Playing career: All-State baseball player and wrestler for Aloha (Ore.) High. . . . New York Mets’ first-round pick (16th overall) in 1977. . . . Switch-hitting infielder, played 14 seasons with New York Mets (1980-88), Minnesota (1989), Pittsburgh (1990), Philadelphia (1991-92) and Seattle (1993). . . . Hit .275 with 482 runs scored and 117 stolen bases in 1,102 career games. . . . Played in postseason with 1986 Mets, 1988 Mets and 1990 Pirates. . . . Went 6-for-6 for Pittsburgh at San Diego on April 27, 1990, becoming the first NL player in 15 years with a six-hit game. Family: Wife, Sandi, and seven children — Wally Jr., Natasha, Jennifer, Tiffany, Cobey, Lisa and Sheila. . . . Wally Jr. was the Texas Rangers’ 30thround draft pick this year.