By Ernie Palladino
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The common feeling a few weeks back was that Terry Collins was pretty much a lock to return as the Mets’ skipper, barring a total collapse in the final six weeks.
As they have only gotten worse since then, and September is upon us, the front office might have to revisit that stance. The won-loss is ugly — 90 wins went out the window with Saturday’s setback to the Phillies, and a clinch of a losing season is just nine more away. Even with the series win they accomplished Sunday, they’re an impossible 14 games off Washington’s lead, a game and a half out of last place, and so far from a wild card spot that cellular roaming charges would apply if Collins tried to call it.
Despite all that, there still remains the distinct possibility that Collins will be Sandy Alderson’s guy once the team packs up its linguine — uh, bats — and heads home for a contemplative and hopefully transformative offseason.
But what if they fold entirely? What if the pitching turns as ineffective as the offense and it all goes down the drain? What if Alderson ultimately decides that top-down change is in order?
Where should he go?
If the fans had any influence, Alderson would look westward to Las Vegas, where an old Mets second baseman just won the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year award. Wally Backman has never been far from the minds of the long-frustrated customers, at least not in the three years since he moved to the head man’s office in Triple-A.
A lot of people would love to see him get a shot here, and why not? This franchise has had a history of hiring its own, sort of. Yogi Berra played four games with them in 1965 and then managed them for four years from 1972-75. Gil Hodges won a World Series for them in 1969, six years after he wrapped up his playing career in the Polo Grounds.
Joe Torre’s first skippership came as their player-manager in 1977. Bud Harrelson, the plucky shortstop of Hodges’ title team, got his shot, too. Even Dallas Green threw five innings for them in 1966.
Okay, so maybe there are some tenuous alumni strands there. The point is, why not bring in another star from the past? Backman couldn’t do much worse than Collins. Plus, he’d be an immensely popular hire. Lord knows, the Mets could use a little good publicity these days.
It probably won’t happen, though. Backman is not Alderson’s kind of guy. They are two different types, really. Alderson, low-key and imbued with the statistical guidelines of the Moneyball culture, is the polar opposite to the highly-charged and demanding Backman. The latter uses the same emotion in the Las Vegas 51’s dugout that turned him into an inspirational figure in 1986.
Plus, the word is he’s a solid in-game tactician, a trait that would certainly appease Collins’ detractors, who have scratched their heads all season over his moves.
Divergent personalities have co-existed before, of course, so it’s not inconceivable that Backman could work out, even under a GM like Alderson. After all, the name of the game is winning. The big problem is that Backman also comes with some personal luggage that is not exactly vintage Louis Vuitton quality.
It never helps a reputation when a team hires a manager and has to dump him five days later when numerous off-field issues come to light, as the Arizona Diamondbacks did with Backman in 2004. Organizations may forgive financial problems, but arrests for DUI and domestic violence tend to endure in the executive memory bank.
It’s too bad because Backman appears to have turned his personal life around. Besides that, he has been credited with developing such talent as Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Juan Lagares in his time with the 51’s. If nothing else, they’d be familiar with his 0-to-60 temper. His passion could ignite the locker room, with those three serving as a buffer between Backman and any injured egos.
He could inspire. He could out-coach the other guy. The Mets might be a better team with him.
Alderson does seem committed to Collins for now, and rightly so. Collins has worked too hard, been too good a soldier to not have a shot with a professional lineup. If Alderson does his job this winter, he should have one in 2015.
But if the total collapse does come this month and Alderson decides to make a change, Backman wouldn’t be the worst choice. He’s homegrown. He’s popular.
The fans would love it.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino
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