Monday, June 8, 2009

Wally Backman: The Interview

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Wally Backman, Manager of the Joliet Jackhammers of the Northern League. Most of you will remember Backman as the scrappy second baseman on the World Champion 1986 New York Mets. The interview focused primarily on Backman's experience in the Northern League, his passion for managing, and his time as a player in the majors.

For more information about the Joliet Jackhammers and Wally Backman, please visit:

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Jorge Says No! Interview With Wally Backman
(as told on 6/4/2009)

Jorge Says No!: How is the season going so far?

Wally Backman: Well, we're struggling a bit right now, we're not scoring any runs.

We'll be okay. I'm trying to get a couple more players in here...a couple more bats.

Jorge Says No!: What appealed to you about managing in the Northern League?

Wally Backman: It's a good league. It's a developmental league. They take good care of you in this league and ownership is good and all of the stadiums are real nice. It's a well run league and it's done professionally.

Jorge Says No!: What level of play would you consider the Northern League to be?

Wally Backman: It's kinda hard to figure because you got some big league guys in here and then you got guys outta A ball, AA, AAA. One of the real good teams here would probably hit pretty well in AA.

Jorge Says No!: The Northern League has rules in place specifically outlining how many veterans and rookies can play on each team based on service time. How do you feel about this? And do you enjoy managing young players?

Wally Backman: In a perfect world, there wouldn't be any status for the players so you could have whoever want in here, but that's not the way the league does it. In one way it's nice because I have a pretty young team here so I've got an opportunity to still try and develop players and try to win in the process and try to get them back into affiliated baseball.

Jorge Says No!: Does your managing style differ from your playing style?

Wally Backman: No. Not at all.

Jorge Says No!: Do you still hope to one day have the opportunity to manage in the major leagues?

Wally Backman: Absolutely.

Jorge Says No!: Or how about coach in the majors?

Wally Backman: Nah, I wanna manage.

Jorge Says No!: Do you think your players have come to the Northern League with the sole purpose of getting to the major leagues?

Wally Backman: I think so. I got a lot of guys that have played in affiliated ball before. I don't want guys that think they're going to be lifers in the Northern League. I want guys to feel like they have an opportunity to get back to affiliated ball.

Jorge Says No!: I know he's currently on the disabled list right now, but how do you like managing your son (Wally Backman Jr)?

Wally Backman: It's okay. It's different...I treat him just like anyone else.

Jorge Says No!: Some of the players you managed in the minor leagues have made it to the major leagues (Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Dan Uggla, Jeremy Reed, Aaron Miles, Miguel Olivo, etc.). How gratifying is it for you to see these guys in the majors?

Wally Backman: It's great to know that you helped develop them to get to the major leagues. I wouldn't say that it was just me who got them to the major leagues because it's all about development. I was a piece of the puzzle to help them get on the right track.

Jorge Says No!:
And in your opinion, what is the key to player development and developing a successful major league player?

Wally Backman: It's all based on hard work and dedication. The player happens to be dedicated to his work and if they're dedicated to doing the work, the results will bring it out in them if they develop the skills.

Jorge Says No!: And if you could describe yourself as a player, what word would you use? And why?

Wally Backman: I would say scrappy and hard nosed. That was my game. I played the game hard.

Jorge Says No!: It seems as though baseball has shifted away from the hard nosed style towards a power game.

Wally Backman: I think parks are smaller and players are bigger and stronger now. Players today are more involved than when I played. Workouts back then were just practice and now you've got guys lifting and working out all the time.

Jorge Says No!: It took the Mets a long time to finally give you the starting job at 2b. How much credit do you owe Davey Johnson for showing faith in you?

Wally Backman: A lot. He told me that if he got the job, that I would be the second baseman. He deserves a lot of the credit. I worked my butt off for him.

Jorge Says No!: How much of a thrill was it to play on a World Series winning team (1986 Mets)?

Wally Backman: It was great. The best team I ever played on.

Jorge Says No!: And finally, in 1986, you and Lenny Dykstra were called "Partners in Grime". Where did this nickname originate?

Wally Backman: Well, our uniforms were always dirty. We did whatever we could to get on base and set the table for the big guys. I think the nickname sorta evolved from that.

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I'd like to conclude by saying how much of a thrill it was for me to speak with Mr. Backman. As a Met fan myself, it was incredible to have the opportunity to speak with an integral member of the 1986 Mets. I would like to thank Mr. Backman for being so generous with his time and for his candid responses. I'm rooting for Wally to another shot at managing at the major league level...he deserves it.

This interview would not have been possible if not for the generosity of Jon Versteeg and the Joliet Jackhammers. A special thank you goes out to them. Best of luck the rest of the way!


Julie said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Jorge Says No! said...

thanks. I appreciate it.