Wally, you're fired
Saturday, November 6, 2004
PHOENIX -- After just four days on the job, Wally Backman was fired Friday as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks because of two arrests and financial problems he kept from the team.
The Diamondbacks replaced Backman with former Seattle Mariners manager Bob Melvin, an Arizona bench coach when the team won the 2001 World Series.
Before hiring Backman, the Diamondbacks didn't do any criminal or financial checks and were unaware of his problems until they were reported Tuesday in The New York Times. The Diamondbacks then hired a company to conduct an independent background check, managing partner Ken Kendrick said.
"It's obviously a mistake on our part to have made a decision without having done the proper background work that could have been done, should have been done. I take full responsibility for that, and I'm very sorry," Kendrick said.
After their investigation, he added, "We determined that it wasn't in the Diamondbacks' interest or our fans' interest that Wally be our manager."
Backman was asked in his final interview whether there was anything in his past that the Diamondbacks should know, and he answered no, Kendrick said.
The episode led the Diamondbacks to institute mandatory background checks on all key hires -- including Melvin.
Backman never signed a contract and won't be compensated, Kendrick said. Calls to Backman were referred to his agent Terry Bross, who was out of his office and unavailable for comment.
It would have been the first major league managing job for Backman, a second baseman who played 14 seasons and helped the New York Mets win the 1986 World Series.
He was arrested in 2001 after a fight at his home involving his wife and one of her friends in Prineville, Ore. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to 12 months' probation, ordered to undergo an anger management evaluation and donate $1,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club.
Backman was also arrested, and later convicted, on a driving under the influence charge in Kennewick, Wash., in 2000.
A judge in Benton County, Wash., has ordered a hearing next month to determine if Backman violated his probation on the DUI charge. He served a day in jail and the rest of the one-year sentence was suspended on condition that he commit no new crimes.
The judge's order stems from the 2001 fight in Prineville. Backman has also had financial problems, filing for bankruptcy several years ago.
On Tuesday night, Backman told The Associated Press, "I've made a few 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."
Backman spent one year in the Diamondbacks' organization, working at Class-A Lancaster last season, when he was Sporting News' minor league manager of the year.
The Diamondbacks' about-face embarrassed an organization making its first major decision since restructuring management and forcing out Jerry Colangelo, who headed the franchise since its started in 1998.
"I hope our fans will understand that we are going to make mistakes," Kendrick said, "but I hope they will learn ... that we may make mistakes but we will for certain not repeat those same mistakes. We didn't do our job this time. We will in the future."
When Backman was hired, Kendrick lauded his intensity, showing a baseball card that showed him taking out a catcher on a play at the plate.
Melvin is far more low key. In his two seasons with Seattle, the Mariners went 93-69, then he was fired after going 63-99 last season. Melvin was willing to overlook that he was not Arizona's first choice.
"I know it's kind of a roundabout way, and maybe it hasn't occurred this way before, but it doesn't take away from the fact that I'm excited to be here in a place that I feel like I should be," he said.
Melvin inherits a team that went 51-111 under the fired Bob Brenly and interim manager Al Pedrique. Melvin, who lives in suburban north Phoenix, said former Diamondbacks player Jay Bell will be his bench coach.
"The goal here is to get us back to our glory days," Melvin said. "We accomplished some incredible things in a very short period of time and the goal is to get back to that."