NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain Bees laid out their expectations quite clearly - win and win now.
And the Bees’ ownership group believes Wally Backman, the former second baseman and 1986 World Series champion for the New York Mets, offers the franchise the best chance to do that.
That officially began Thursday afternoon when Backman was introduced as the second manager in Bees history.
“I’m excited to be here,” Backman said. “We’re going to do a lot of stuff with the community here to try and put a lot of people in the stands. The team is going to be a lot different this year than it was in the past.
“I really believe coming to New Britain and into the Atlantic League, [it] is the best league that is out there for players trying to get back to the big leagues and affiliated ball because that’s what we’re really about, and being involved in the community. We’re going to do a lot of things with the kids here. We’re going to have a real solid year and beat Long Island in the championship.”
Shortly after a season in which the Bees finished dead last in the Atlantic League, the franchise knew it needed a change - both in the front office and in the clubhouse.
A 58-81 record, owners Anthony Iacovone and Michael Pfaff said, wouldn’t cut it. So when the Bees went out looking to hire a new manager, they knew what they wanted. New Britain sought out a winner, a manager that can put together a team and someone who would be able to reach out to the area beyond just the confines of New Britain Stadium.
Backman checked all of those boxes.
The former Met has led three different teams to league championships - the Tri-City Posse of the Independent Western Baseball League in 1999, the Birmingham Barons (While Sox double-A affiliate) in 2002 and the South Georgia Peanuts of the Independent South Coast League in 2007.
He also managed the 2010 Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ single-A affiliate, and the 2014 Las Vegas 51’s, the Mets’ triple-A team, to regular season first place finishes. Over his managerial career, Backman has amassed 1,066 victories between his different stops.
“I’ve had a few conversations with Wally and as you’ll find out, he’s just very passionate and he tells it like it is,” Pfaff said. “He’s very plainspoken. He’s not going to run a misdirection play on you. It’s refreshing to speak to someone like that, somebody that has the experience and the success he’s had that’s going to enhance the Bees organization.”
That frankness has generated some strong and polarizing opinions of Backman throughout baseball and amongst fans, as have some of his past transgressions.
The now 58-year-old was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks in November 2004, but was fired four days later without having managed a single game after reports came out of prior arrests - one for DUI, another for domestic violence - and financial problems that caused him to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying more than 20 creditors.
He was later let go by the Mets organization, which he had been a part of from 2009-16 in different coaching capacities, and claimed he was forced out as current Mets general manager Sandy Alderson attempted to blackball him from Major League Baseball.
But the Bees organization, especially Iacovone and Pfaff, have no reservations about its new hire.
“We have no concerns,” Iacovone said. “Wally is a standup guy. He tells it like it is and a lot of times, guys like him that do that get the short end of the stick. But he’s fiery, he’s passionate and he wants to win. The first thing he said to me when we met him was how important community and winning were. That’s what you want to hear and I think we got the right guy.”
The Bees are hoping - and expecting - Backman will be that guy.
New Britain, Backman said, “needs an overhaul” and will field a team with a mixture of veterans and young players with more emphasis on the older players.
Jovan Rosa, Craig Maddox, Michael Crouse, Conor Bierfieldt and Jon Griffin are most likely to be the only holdovers from the last two seasons.
With teams now more invested in analytics, Backman plans on using a combination of that along with the old-school way of thinking, such as chemistry, to help the franchise contend for its first ever playoff berth and potentially a title.
And, like the ownership group, Backman plans on setting expectations high.
“New Britain had the worst record in the Atlantic League last year. Well, we’re going to change that,” Backman said. “It’s not just going to be me that does that, it’s going to be us as a group that changes it and we’re excited to get started. I’m ready to get going.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org