Saturday, February 18, 2017
The Acereros reached the Liga's championship series in 2015, losing to Quintana Roo. Monclova finished second in the LMB North last year with a 69-43 record before being swept by Tijuana in the first round of playoffs last summer under then-manager Homar Rojas, who will be managing in Aguascalientes in 2017. The team also finished fourth in the LMB attendance derby in 2016, drawing 353,252 fans to 11,000-seat Estadio Beisbol de Monclova for an average of 6,423 per opening. In short, the Acereros could be reasonably considered one of the Mexican League's better franchises.
Bringing Backman to Monclova appears to be a coup of sorts for Benavides. After his 1993 retirement as a scrappy second baseman, Backman been successful as a minor league manager over 18 seasons in both independent and affiliated leagues, with ten winning seasons and three pennants: 1999 with Tri-City of the indy Western League, 2002 with Birmingham of the AA Southern League and 2007 with South Georgia in the indy South Coast League. He was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year in 2004 after leading Class A Lancaster of the California League to an 86-54 regular season record (Puebla skipper Hayes managed Modesto to a league-best 90-50 mark that year). The Oregon native has managed the Mets' AAA Las Vegas affiliate the past four seasons, winning the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year award in 2014 after leading the 51's to the PCL South regular season title with an 81-63 record, nine games ahead of second-place El Paso, before a first-round playoff loss. He's got a solid resume.
On the other hand, Backman brings some baggage across the border. After he was named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 1, 2004, the New York Times ran a story depicting the former second sacker's legal and financial problems, including a 1996 restraining order filed against him by his first wife, a 2001 DUI arrest, an incident that same year involving his second wife and a friend that resulted in a misdemeanor harrassment plea, and a personal bankruptcy filing in 2003. The Diamondbacks fired him five days after hiring him. Backman went back to indy ball before signing on to manage in the Mets system in 2010, but was let go by the Mets after last season. He's since accused Mets GM Sandy Alderson of blackballing him among organized baseball organizations, a charge others have denied but Backman says he learned of from a friend in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's office.
Although he's said he's grateful to be managing the Acereros, Backman may view working in Mexico as a temporary situation. Writer Bob Klapisch with USA Today's NorthJersey.com site says Backman (who speaks little Spanish) has let it be known he'd jump at an offer from an MLB organization, even if it meant breaking his commitment to the Acereros. "I would take it in a minute," Backman is quoted as saying. "What I'm worried about is being out of sight, out of mind. If I go to Mexico, I'll be out of sight from the people I'm trying to connect with."