In perhaps one of the most bizarre twists of fate in baseball history, former Lancaster Jet Hawks manager Wally Backman was hired as the Arizona Diamondbacks manager and fired four days later.
A background check was prompted after the New York Times broke a story concerning Backman's personal and financial problems. The Diamondbacks claimed they were unaware of Backman's somewhat troubling past, and the organization failed to perform a background check on Backman prior to offering him the managerial position.
The Times reported that on Jan. 3, 2001, Backman was found guilty of drinking under the influence. He spent one day in jail, was fined $560, and was ordered to complete a course on alcohol counseling.
That same year, Backman was involved in a domestic dispute with his wife. Ultimately, he was charged with harassment and spent another day in jail. He was also prohibited from drinking and was ordered to enter an anger-control treatment program.
The Times also reported that in February 2003, Backman filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which frees debtors from most debts, including credit card debt.
Backman was ejected six times managing Arizona's High ‘A' Lancaster Jet Hawks this season. He was suspended twice, including once for bumping an umpire.
However, Backman had a great season with the Jet Hawks, leading the team to an 86-54 record and to their first appearance in the California League Championship series. He was also voted The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.
Those who worked closely with Backman in Lancaster said his prior offenses off the field had nothing to do with his capabilities on the field.
"There was never any manifestation of Wally's past issues," JetHawks communication manager, Dan Hubbard, said. "It was pretty obvious that he had moved on."
"To me, he was a very forthright person," Hubbard added. "He never tried to hide anything."
Hubbard, who has worked for the Jet Hawks for seven years, said that Backman was the sixth manager he has worked with.
"Hands down, Wally was the best manager when it came to baseball," Hubbard said. "He was an intense and competitive manager. Failure was not an option."
Backman also knew how to get the most out of his players. In eight seasons as a minor league manager, he has acquired a 410-396 record.
"Wally knew when to push us and when not to," said Lancaster Catcher Phil Avlas, who spent the entire 2004 season with Backman. "He made us play to our full potential."
Avlas noted the fast-paced, energetic style of managing as one of the things he remembered the most about playing for Backman. "He knew how to have fun, and he got us to play as a team," Avlas added.
Perhaps Backman's 14 years of major league experience can be credited to his successful style of managing. He played second base for nine years with the Mets and helped them win the 1986 World Series. He credits his style of managing to some of his former managers including Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella.
It was Backman's intensity on the field that got him hired as the Diamondbacks manager. The organization was hoping to inject some energy into a team that fizzled to a 51–111 record in 2004. But it was Backman's intensity off the field that got him fired.
After the debacle, Backman told the Associated Press, "I've made mistakes in my life, and I think everybody has. It's a matter of whether you learn from your mistakes and move on. That's what I'm doing."
And so are the Diamondbacks. Learning from their mistakes, the team did a thorough background check on their second-choice candidate Bob Melvin, before handing him the managerial position.
Whether or not Backman would have been an effective manager in Arizona will never be known.
"I think he would have turned it around," Avlas stated when asked if he thought Backman would have done a good job with Arizona. "He knows how to make a team click."
"I know I'm never going to have another manager like him," Avlas added. "He's one of the best."