Sep 13

Backman Tells His Side; Could Have Helped Collins This Week

Speaking on WFAN this afternoon, deposed Las Vegas manager Wally Backman insisted the decision to leave was his, and he vehemently refuted published reports citing unnamed Mets’ sources claiming he was insubordinate.

Backman said he would have accepted a coaching position on Terry Collins‘ staff or stayed with Vegas if asked. Whether he would have fired if he didn’t leave hasn’t been reported, but based on what Backman told WFAN one can presume he would have been canned by GM Sandy Alderson.

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking.  (AP)

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking. (AP)

Backman, who managed in the Mets’ farm system for seven years, including the last five on the Triple-A level with Buffalo and Las Vegas, said he wants to pursue options to manage in the major leagues but didn’t say he had anything immediately on his radar.

“I left on my own,” Backman said. “It didn’t look like there was any future for me in New York. When you work for an organization and do everything, you want to be respected for what you do. I just felt for my time being there the respect wasn’t there. I could be wrong. They could say different.”

Backman defined respect as more than simply guiding Las Vegas to three consecutive winning seasons prior to this year. He said it should include being acknowledged by Alderson in directing the Mets to James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes; the last coming after a two-hour conversation that acted as a screening process.

All three paid dividends this summer.

In addition, many current Mets – from Noah Syndergaard to Michael Conforto to Jacob deGrom – played under Backman. He also was instrumental in turning around Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud when they were on rehab assignments last year.

Backman was livid at reports citing unnamed sources he went rogue and disobeyed instructions on playing Conforto against left-handed pitching and batting Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” a clearly agitated Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off because I did nothing but try to help these guys.”

As for not playing Conforto against left-handers, Backman said he played in 31 of 33 games, hitting .488 (20-for-41) with three home runs against lefties. One game that Conforto didn’t play in was a day he was sent down and didn’t arrive until the fourth inning. The other came on a day prior to an off-day as to give Conforto two straight days off, which is commonplace.

Backman also said Nimmo hit first or second in 84 out of 97 games.

Backman said he got along with Collins and spoke to him frequently. Regarding his relationship Alderson, Backman took a diplomatic approach.

“I’m not going to say we never got along,” Backman said. “I thought he respected me as a baseball person. I guess I wasn’t the prototypical guy he liked.”

That became clear when the Mets bypassed Backman in favor of Dick Scott last December to be Collins’ bench coach.

We haven’t heard much about Scott this year until this past week, which hasn’t been a great one for Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about setting up his pitching.

Finally, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it Monday, Collins kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of a bench coach, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 13

Did Collins Fall On Sword For Scott?

It hasn’t been a great week for Mets manager Terry Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about his pitching.

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

That day, in a blowout win over the Braves, he left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes – both of whom spent time on the disabled list with leg injuries and still aren’t running well – in the game too long. Blowout wins are rare and represent a chance to grab rest for tired players.

Finally, Monday, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it, he kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

Ironically, the Montero gaffe occurred hours after the Mets split with Triple-A manager Wally Backman.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of bench coach Dick Scott, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at GM Sandy Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

Scott, it should be mentioned, beat out Backman for the bench coach job last winter. Alderson had his reasons for choosing Scott, but it should also be noted his relationship with Backman is frosty at best.

Many decisions a manager makes these days are on the fly. However, with the abundance of statistics and scouting reports available, the bench coach has come into play. The bench coach has to analyze this information and be able to think two or three moves ahead and give it to the manager when the need arises.

In all three decisions within the past week, Collins didn’t shuffle blame on Scott. That’s not who he is; he’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 12

Backman Out; Was Never Going To Get Chance

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wally Backman, the one time, popular pepper pot second baseman of the 1986 champion Mets, is out as Triple-A Las Vegas’ manager.

Just like that, he’s out.

Alderson said Backman left on his own, but does anybody really believe that?

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

“Wally has decided to move on,” Alderson told The New York Post. “He’s got other opportunities, presumably including possible major league coaching or managing.”

That’s nonsense. The minor league season just ended and the major league season is still going on. There are no current openings. If Backman had another job lined up, he would have said so.

When somebody desperately wants to manage in the major leagues, he doesn’t resign from a Triple-A job without something lined up. Instead, he just posted a mild tweet saying he resigned and thanked Mets’ fans for their support. He posted nothing about Alderson.

Reportedly, Backman was on the verge of being named bench coach for the 2012 season, but something happened at the last minute and the job went to Tim Teufel.

In 2004, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and was under financial duress.

Amazingly, the Diamondbacks failed to do a background check.

Baseball is noted for giving second chances, but Backman has never gotten another opportunity to manage on the major league level. Instead, he found sanctuary with the Mets, the team he energized in 1986.

SNY analyst Keith Hernandez called Backman, “a dear friend and a great teammate.”

Backman managed Las Vegas for five seasons and guided them to a 70-74 record this year. Although Las Vegas had three winning seasons prior to this year, Backman never was enamored by Alderson, who was very complimentary in The Post.

“I thought he did a fine job for us,” Alderson said. “We had many players come through Las Vegas and graduate to the major league level and establish themselves in New York.

“He was part of that development process. In addition, other than this year, the teams were very competitive and successful on a won-loss basis. He did a good job for us.”

So, what was the problem?

Backman has a reputation as a loose cannon that irritated the button-down Alderson. There always seemed to be friction between them, and Alderson has a reputation for holding a grudge.

There are reports of Backman defying Alderson by not batting Brandon Nimmo leadoff and – heaven forbid – or starting Michael Conforto against left-handed pitchers.

On the major league level, Terry Collins said he would, but never followed through on hitting Conforto against lefties. Backman was also critical of how Conforto was used by the Mets. Come to think of it, who hasn’t been critical of the way the Mets are using Conforto.

The Mets’ current outfield situation, in large part made by their eagerness to placate Yoenis Cespedes, is currently a mess. There are no plans for what to do with Conforto – whom Collins said in April was destined to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade – and Nimmo.

There is actually a chance they won’t have either Cespedes or Jay Bruce in 2017.

Collins was hired to replace Jerry Manuel in 2011 and had four losing seasons. There were opportunities to hire Backman then, but Collins survived, getting the benefit of the doubt by numerous injuries and ownership’s financial problems.

The thinking was the Mets couldn’t fire Collins because he hadn’t been given a representative team. It wouldn’t be fair. However, everything fell into place and the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. And, with the Mets serious wild-card contenders this year, Collins’ job seems secure.

Part of the success of last year was because of the performances of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, players who did well under Backman.

The Mets could have promoted Backman to bench coach after last year to replace Bob Geren, who left for the Dodgers. However, when the job went to Dick Scott, it became clear there was no place for him on the major league level despite Jeff Wilpon’s initial gesture of support when they hired him.

With the friction between Backman and the Mets this year, it was only a matter of time before today happened. Do you still don’t think there isn’t animosity between Backman and the Mets? On SNY during the game, Backman wasn’t mentioned until the seventh inning of a blowout, and ended its Baseball Tonight broadcast with basically a throw-away line. It was the last item, but should have been the first.

Don’t think the Mets didn’t have anything to do with that? It sure looks like the Mets wanted to bury this. Makes you wonder why they didn’t wait until 3 in morning Eastern time – the Mets were on the West Coast at the time – like they did when they axed Willie Randolph.

The bottom line is the Mets didn’t want Backman. That’s too bad, and I hope some team takes a chance on him.

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Sep 12

Met On The Mound: Montero Pitching For Spot On Playoff Roster

I’m not crazy about the Mets having to start Rafael Montero tonight in Washington, but I’m glad they have an experienced arm to turn to and manager Terry Collins isn’t forced to alter his rotation by flipping him with Noah Syndergaard.

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

It’s a smart move on Collins’ part not to toy with Syndergaard, who is showing signs of regaining his command after a stretch where he was bothered by a bone spur and poor command.

The Mets have been fortunate to win both of Montero’s starts despite his wildness. Collins likes that Montero throws hard – ten walks in 9.1 innings – but said command is the central issue.

Command will be a deciding factor if the Mets get down to making a playoff roster. Montero has the experience and is capable of giving the Mets innings. Montero must show tonight and in possibly two remaining starts that his control won’t be a liability.

The Mets have no choice but to stick with Montero for now because both Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are now throwing off flat ground. They are likely two weeks away.

So for now, Montero has his immediate destiny in his hands. The Mets won’t have five starters on their playoff roster, and unlike last season, unless Matz and deGrom return, Bartolo Colon won’t work out of the bullpen.

I never imagined I would write that with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman ahead of him – and barring no returns from the DL – Montero has tonight and possibly two other starts later to make the impression he belongs.

Yes, there’s always next year, but Montero has a chance to pitch in the playoffs this season and these opportunities don’t come often.

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Sep 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Continues To Shine

Every pennant winner needs that player who comes out of nowhere to fill a huge void, which is exactly what the Mets have in Seth Lugo. More to the point, where would they be without him?

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

Lugo has given the Mets’ rotation a sense of stability after injuries to Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Lugo, who joined the rotation Aug. 19, was superb in Sunday’s 10-3 rout of Atlanta, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Now 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, Lugo figures to get three more starts and if he runs the table could tie deGrom with seven victories in his rookie season.

“He has a feel for pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “He knows how to get a ground ball to get out of trouble. You see him bear down and his fastball gets a little better.”

If there was a turning point, it came in the fourth, when the Mets held a 6-1 lead but the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. However, Lugo got Dansby Swanson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He mixes his pitches well,” said catcher Rene Rivera. “When he gets a runner on base, he focuses and executes.”

The Mets were never seriously threatened from then on.

Lugo’s domination on the day the Mets said good-riddance to Turner Field was the clear storyline. The others were Collins’ questionable handling of two of his key injured players and finally, some production, from James Loney.

MORE COLLINS HEADSCRATCHING: Less than 24 hours after Collins took the blame for not running for Wilmer Flores only to have him thrown out, and injured, on a play at the plate, he foolishly kept the gimpy Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in a blowout game despite the expanded rosters.

Cabrera has been playing with a sore knee and Cespedes a bad quad – injuries that forced both to the disabled list in the second half of the season – so you would think Collins would use every opportunity to rest them.

For all practical purposes, the competitive aspect of the game was over when the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the fifth.

Even so, Cabrera and Cespedes remained in the game despite the expanded rosters.

Collins said they wanted to stay in the game to beg the question: Who is managing this team anyway?

Heading into Washington for three games against the Nationals, who would like nothing better to cap the division with a sweep of the Mets, and on a stretch of 19 straight games without an off day, it’s beyond foolish to keep players coming off injuries in a blowout game.

LONEY RESURFACES: When Lucas Duda went down with a back injury, the Mets caught a break when they picked up Loney.

He’s been solid defensively and hit .294 in June and .280 in July, but only .213 in August.

However, he’s been warming up in September, and Sunday went 2-for-4 with a double and homer

Nobody can say for sure if Duda will return, so it would be important to have a hot Loney for the last three weeks.

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