Talk to any Mets fan about the managerial vacancy and the words “Wally Backman” will undoubtedly pepper the conversation. ”Toughness”, “aggressiveness” and “hustle” are the words associated with Backman’s playing tenure in Flushing, words which sound great in the context of a manager, particularly coming off the reactive and often backpedaling style of the departed Jerry Manuel. And Mets fans know Backman is certainly ready for a big league chance, especially after he was hired for the Diamondbacks job in 2004 but was instantly fired for some undisclosed personal indiscretions (read: nothing baseball related and he’s now paid his dues in the years since the revelation that he didn’t disclose his legal/financial/domestic violence issues).
A much less sexy, but potentially more qualified choice is Ken Oberkfell. The formerly bearded former Brave and Cardinal infielder has quietly put together an impressive minor league managerial resume, including a manager of the year award in 2005 when he guided the Mets AAA affiliate Norfolk Tides to a dominant season. Everything you read about Oberkfell characterizes him as hard-working, humble, an excellent communicator and an effective motivator of the young players on his teams. Oberkfell has also paid his dues managing teams like the Boll Weevils and Bombers and reportedly impressed in his 2008 interview with the Mets when they were looking for a replacement to Willie Randolph. I endorsed his candidacy in my blog on this site at the time, and can’t help wondering how things might’ve been different if the Mets listened to me instead of hiring Manuel.
The experience of, and respect accorded to Mets new GM Sandy Alderson is a safety net in the team’s leadership structure, and opens the door for a manager with fresh ideas and a new motivational approach, but who may lack big league experience. Its for this reason that the Mets must resist any temptation to hire managerial retreads such as Bob Melvin and Clint Hurdle. The Mets must step away from a strategy of perpetuation of the status quo, must stay away from the Art Howes of the world and (lord help me) the Bobby Valentines of the world.
I can’t sit here and realistically gauge the attitude of Wally Backman, and how it might have changed from the man the D’backs thought was too volatile to lead them in 2005 without the chance to interview Wally myself, or at least see the video of someone else interviewing him. But left with only the surface level data I have at my disposal, comparing Backman’s rocky career arc to Oberkfell’s steady one, I’d have to give the edge to Oberkfell.
However if “Valentine’s Day” comes early for the Mets this year I’m jumping ship. (Only partially kidding).
About the Author
Written by Mark Reichman