Matthew Cerrone, Lead Writer
Triple-A manager Wally Backman is now in charge of Ike Davis, which is giving me confidence that Ike can return to form.
I used to think there was zero chance Backman ever managed the Mets, for reasons I will explain later in this post. I have long been told Tim Teufel or Bob Geren are next in line.
However, in the event the Mets totally fall apart this year — if they haven’t already — and Sandy Alderson decides Collins won’t be back in 2014, I have a hunch he would let his manager go early and test out Backman to end this season. They can label him “Interim Manager” and see how it goes.
If Alderson decides Collins should stay on all year, but is let go after the last game and then the team has to undergo a search for a new manager, he and ownership know fans will inundate them, talk radio, this site and Twitter with demands for Backman to take over. It will never end. It will be impossible to ignore. Trust me, I know. So, it could be best to test Wally out, and either let it go up in flames or be a success, in which case the front office will have a better idea and justification for how to move forward…
In regards to Davis, Backman talked on air with WFAN’s Mike Francesa, which is the first time I’ve heard him do a prominent radio interview since joining the organization.
”We’re going to take it slow, do one thing at a time, and I really believe with the people that are involved in this now, I really believe that we can get this kid right,” Backman told Francesa, pointing out that he and his staff have watched hours and hours of video of Davis in preparation for his arrival on Tuesday.
Backman said he and Davis met for a few hours before Tuesday’s game, to discuss their approach, goals and what the young first baseman has been experiencing in New York.
“To be honest with you, I’m going to say that it’s probably 80 percent mental for this kid,” Backman said. “We really want to clear his mind and get him right.”
In fact, during the interview, Backman said, “We’ll get him right,” on four different occasions, heavily touting his coaching staff’s ability to turn Ike’s season around.
These quotes got my attention.
I’ve been hearing for years that Mets management respect and appreciate Backman’s ability to connect with and motivate players in a real way. He knows his stats and he knows the game, so on paper, he makes sense as a guy to one day take over the big-league team. However, for now, I’m told they mostly value him as a ‘coach’ — a guy who can whip young players in to shape and get them ready for Collins. Plus, they way I’ve heard it from team insiders, the major concern they have about Wally is his ability to control media, censor himself and not create controversy where it isn’t needed. The problem for Backman is the Mets play in New York City, which asks it’s manager to talk to print reporters twice a day, as well as do multiple, exclusive radio and TV interviews each week.
I mean, he said “bullshit,” on air with WFAN, and he was censored in Tuesday’s Newsday, quoted on record as saying about Davis, “Mentally, he’s totally [messed] up.” I’ll leave it to you to figure out what word they replaced.
Personally, I love it. I have no problem with how he talks and addresses his players, 1) because it’s refreshing during an era when athletes and managers are so politically correct and boring, but 2) because it’s authentic, which is what makes him so admired among Mets fans.
I have talked to Wally on a few occasions, and I only know him to be brutally honest and dead-serious about winning. He speaks with candor on the record, and with colorful candor when off the record. I have also talked with several players who have worked with him and they all praise these qualities. In more than one case, I had a former player tell me they respect his ability to point out a negative, but motivate you to want to overcome it when no one else thinks you can. Just like he played, he coaches with a chip on his shoulder, and it seems his students develop a similar edge as well.
“That’s why Backman’s therapy sessions with Davis could have greater ramifications,” Bob Klapisch explains in a recent column for the Bergen Record. “If Wally has something in his ’80s arsenal that would allow him to succeed where Collins, Alderson and everyone else at Citi Field have failed, it would cement the notion that Backman’s time has come.”
The coming convergence between his progression through the system, his legacy with fans, and Terry’s contract, mean the Mets are going to have to deal with Backman at some point soon. And, this Ike Davis situation could very well be his tipping point…