Backman: I earned that job
• Ex-Aloha star still fumes over Diamondback firing
In November, Wally Backman thought he had the job of his dreams Ñ manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Four days later, after revelations of legal and financial troubles, the Diamondbacks pulled out of the agreement and replaced him with former Seattle skipper Bob Melvin.
Earlier this month, Backman served six days of a 10-day jail sentence in in Benton County, Wash., stemming from violation of probation after a 2001 conviction for driving under the influence. Later that year, the former Aloha High star pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment involving his wife and one of her friends, which violated a 12-month probation.
It was just another indignity for the 45-year-old Prineville resident, who, when not hunting or fishing, has spent most of the last 2 1/2 months licking his wounds and wondering what the future has in store for him.
'After everything that happened, I have absolutely nothing lined up for next season,' Backman says, in his first interview with the print media since being terminated.
Backman spent 14 seasons (1980-93) as a fiery infielder with the New York Mets, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Seattle. He won a World Series ring with the Mets in 1986. He hit better than .300 three times and finished with a .275 career average.
He does have one gig lined up this week. He'll be among the speakers and presenters at the fifth annual Northwest Baseball Coaches Convention Friday through Sunday at the Embassy Suites Hotel Portland-Airport. Coaches from all levels are invited to attend the event and pick up tips and techniques. (Call 503-635-4520 or go online to www.nwstar.net for more information.)
Still mad at Arizona
The Diamondbacks claimed they were unaware when they hired Backman that he had a DUI conviction, had pleaded guilty to harassment, had once been accused of spousal abuse by his former wife and had twice filed for bankruptcy.
Backman is still fuming. He says he was wrongfully terminated, and the matter 'has to be dealt with legally' by the Diamondbacks. He believes the Phoenix media contributed to his demise by emphasizing the negative aspects of his past and putting pressure on the team not to hire him.
'They tried to make me into a drunken wife-beater, which is the furthest thing from the truth,' he says. 'If it were true, how did I win custody of my son (Wally Jr., who is 19)? They said I hit my (former) wife in the face. The restraining order was dropped after nine days, and she was held twice in contempt of court. None of that was reported. There were a lot of false statements given to the Diamondbacks. Even some of the police reports were a crock.'
Could it be the Diamondbacks hadn't done a background check before they hired him?
'Sure they did,' Backman says, 'but after hearing what they heard (from the media), they were looking for a way out. And they were able to sign Melvin a lot cheaper. He was still under contract by the Mariners, who have to pick up part of the salary.'
Backman bristles at the thought.
'Melvin made some crude comments in the newspaper; all I can say is, he was (Arizona's) second choice,' Backman says. Then he shifts gears.
'I'm the first to admit I've made some mistakes over the course of my life. I'd like to know anybody who hasn't,' he says. 'You learn from some of the mistakes you make and go on from there. That's exactly what I've done. When I remarried (to Sandi, a Prineville native, in 1997), we regrouped. We're not the people they have tried to make us out to be.'
Backman completed a court-mandated alcohol program after his DUI conviction. He says today he drinks 'very little. I'll have a glass of wine, but no question, I've changed my lifestyle. Before I went through my divorce (in 1994), I was going down the wrong road. I won't lie. I was hitting the booze hard. After I met Sandi, my life changed.'
Once a rising star
Backman has been a successful manager ever since his first job in 1997.
His bitterness at the Diamondbacks spills out.
'I earned that job,' he says. 'I wanted them to stick with me. When (news reports of his record) first came out, I told them I wanted to hold a press conference. I was going to tell everything. They wanted to wait for three days and let it blow over. Most of it did, but then they called at 8 a.m. (on Nov. 4) and said I was done.
'I think it was one person who had a problem with me Ñ (general partner) Ken Kendrick. I still feel I have a good rapport with people in the organization. The fact is, I never lied to them once. In our interviews, they never asked any questions about what happened in my past. I answered every question that was asked.
'One thing I have never told anyone: I passed on an opportunity to interview for the Mets job (before Willie Randolph was named manager), because I was told I had the Diamondbacks job.'
Backman, who interviewed for the White Sox managerial position when Ozzie Guillen was hired in 2003, isn't saying he feels blackballed in the big leagues.
'But I have some concern,' he says. 'I can only hope that somebody is going to stand up and know a lot of this stuff was bull. I know what I accomplished on the field as a (minor league) manager.
'I ain't going to throw stones at people,' he reiterates, 'but when they say things about me, I could say things about a lot of people. You could say things about guys like Bobby Cox and Dusty Baker. They don't lose their jobs for what they have done, and there are a lot of (managers) who have done things. The difference was, I was the new guy. I wasn't a manager being recycled.'
Between them, Wally and Sandi have seven children and five grandchildren.
'Makes you sound old, doesn't it?' Wally asks, laughing.
Wally Jr. is a promising 6-3, 215-pound infielder in the Texas organization. Maybe father and son will be in the big leagues together some day.
'I'd like to think that's possible,' Backman says. 'I've had tons of support from people I know. I've heard it's about 80 percent sentiment that I got screwed. That's nice to hear, but I still don't have a job.'