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Collected Wisdom: Wally Backman, Las Vegas 51s manager and former major league player

by Jacob Unruh Published: July 5, 2014

Wally Backman has seen every level of professional baseball, from rookie to independent ball.

A first-round draft pick by the New York Mets in 1977, Backman worked his way through the minor leagues before debuting with the Mets in 1980.

He had a successful 14-year career in which he hit .275 and won one World Series with the infamous 1986 Mets.

Now, Backman is the manager of the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s, working his way back to the majors after he lost his chance with the Arizona Diamondbacks in a controversial period 10 years ago that saw him hired and fired within a week.

Backman recently sat down with The Oklahoman and talked about his career, influences and managing philosophy.

I grew up in Oregon, so baseball was something that you weren’t able to play like you played in California all the time. A lot of the games were limited back then at that time. But it was something we did every day as a kid growing up. We didn’t have the Nintendos and that type of stuff, so our extra activity was always outside playing baseball.

Going through the minors, I was the No. 1 pick at 17 years old so I started my career in the New York-Penn League, and as I went through each stage and level of the minor leagues — some guys say there’s a big difference — but it never really affected me that much.

I remember Joe Torre was my manager in 1980. I went up and was 20 years old. I met the team in Los Angeles and Dodgers Stadium had 55,000 people when I played that first day I got there. Playing in front of guys I had seen as I grown up, I was in a pretty big awe.

I had never been in a major league stadium up until that point, so to walk in there and see Dodger Stadium packed the way it was overwhelming.

I know that the first pitch that was thrown to me was from Burt Hooton and threw it right down the middle, I couldn’t swing at it. After that, it cleared my head a little bit and I got a base hit my first time up.

I think what stands out the most (about the ’86 Mets) is everybody was so competitive. Winning was the utmost. Losing was unacceptable at the time. Of course, we had Davey Johnson and he basically felt the same way, instilled in a lot of the young players that losing was unacceptable. Even though you know you’re going to lose over the course of 162 games, we won 108 games that year.

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by Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the...
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