NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain Bees have a new manager, but it hasn’t come without controversy.
The Bees announced the hiring of former New York Mets infielder and minor-league manager Wally Backman as the second skipper in franchise history Thursday afternoon. Backman replaces Stan Cliburn, who led the Bees to a 129-150 record during his two seasons in charge, including a 58-81 mark last year.
Backman, a former world champion with the Mets, comes to New Britain with a controversial background, and has already been met with disappointment and outright anger by some fans.
Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks in Nov. 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 where he had to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying over 20 creditors.
Backman later managed the Mets single-A and triple-A affiliates to first-place finishes in 2010 and 2014, but was let go from the organization after clashes with the front office. Backman has since claimed he was forced out as manager of the Las Vegas 51s and that current Mets general manager Sandy Alderson attempted to blackball him from Major League Baseball.
Backman joins the Atlantic League and the Bees after spending the past season in Mexico, where he was hired to manage Acereros de Monclova, but was fired 42 games into the season. The former second baseman had also been part of the Mets organization from 2009-16 and even interviewed for the big-league job in 2011 that ultimately went to Terry Collins.
“Those things were discussed and exhausted and we got all the answers [ownership] needed,” New Britain general manager Brad Smith said. “Wally was a guy that was at the top of the list when we were looking to hire a new manager and I think he’s going to develop a winning team and a passionate team for the fans.”
Those issues, however, haven’t been forgotten or forgiven by some Bees fans, including one who served as a host family for the team this past season.
“Based on today’s announcement that Wally Backman is the new manager of the New Britain Bees, I no longer want to be associated with Bees baseball in any way, shape, or form,” said Anne Marshall, who housed six Bees players this past season. “Backman is fouler than any foul ball. What a poor role model; it is a grave disservice to our city to bring such a person to the Bees organization. I wonder how many parents will bring their young families to witness the vulgar displays this coach exhibits on the field. His off the field behavior is even more troubling.”
Smith and Cliburn, however, have spoken highly of Backman, attempting to ease some of those concerns.
“I would say 99 percent of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive,” Smith said. “But I have talked to people that have voiced their concerns but we think Wally will be a great leader for this team.”
Said Cliburn, “I’ve know Wally for a long time. He’s a great person, a competitor and very self motivated. He’s like a little general out there on the field. Everyone in baseball might have some tough instances that have stemmed over from a tough day at the field, but you have to move forward and move on.”
New Britain opens its season April 27 in Texas against the Sugar Land Skeeters.
“I’m excited to get going in New Britain,” Backman said in a statement. “Atlantic League teams care about winning and helping players careers grow. Those are two things I am very passionate about.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach