Wally Backman was hired by the Northern League's Joliet Jackhammers in mid- December to be their new manager! Woopdie Doo, you say? Well Mr. Backman has an interesting story. You probably remember Backman best from his days throughout the 1980s with the New York Mets. Backman was selected 16th overall by the New York Mets in the first round of the 1977 draft. After making his way through the Mets minor league system as a second baseman, he was eventually called up in September of 1980. As a member of the World Championship team in 1986, he and teammate Len Dykstra became known as the "Partners in Grime" due to their blue-collar style of play.
After 14 seasons of playing infield, Backman joined the ranks of coaching. Backman's first managerial job came in the independent Northeast League with the Catskill Cougars in 1997. After that, he managed two other Western League teams in Bend and Tri-City, and won the Western League Championship with Tri-City in 1999. Backman then went on to manage four seasons of affiliated minor league baseball with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. He spent 2001 in Winston-Salem (A) and 2002 through 2003 with Birmingham (AA), where he won the Southern League title in 2002. In 2004, he led Lancaster (A) to the California League Championship series and was named "Minor League Manager of the Year" by The Sporting News.
On November 1, 2004, Backman was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to be their new manager......... That's when his life turned around.
A few short days later, it was revealed that Backman Backman had serious legal and financial problems. He had also been arrested in 1999 for DUI in Washington. A year later, he was arrested in connection with an altercation in his home in Prineville, Oregon. In addition, he'd declared bankruptcy to avoid paying over 20 creditors, including the IRS. The Diamondbacks initially stood by him, but fired him on November 5.
Just when his life's goals and dreams should have been taking shape; he was facing his toughest days. Backman sat out of baseball for two years.
In making a "comeback", Backman managed the South Georgia Peanuts in the inaugural season of the independent South Coast League. He was named "Manager of the Year" after posting a 59-28 record and leading the Peanuts to the South Coast League Championship. But the season wasn't all happy-go-lucky, which isn't a shock to those aware of Backman's gritty, brash style. Backman was suspended three times, he fought with the league over everything from umpiring to drug policy (leaving a pretty nasty voice mail for the higher-ups), he confronted another team's radio announcer - he even quit and vowed to head home to Oregon, returning three days later.
Jackhammers games are always pretty fun. The talent of baseball isn't there....but it's nice to see young guys work their butts of for peanuts and a chance to make their dreams come true. One thing is for certain, it'll be a fun summer in Joliet.