SI, APRIL 11, 2005
WHEN HE was hired as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Nov. 1, 2004, Wally Backman said, "I was made for this job." But he never got a chance to do it. Shortly after his hiring was announced, reports surfaced that Backman had been arrested twice—for DUI in 1999 and for a domestic violence incident in 2001 (he pleaded guilty to harassment and was placed on probation)—and had declared bankruptcy in 2003. Four days after the team hired Backman (below left, with then general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.), the Diamondbacks fired him.
"I felt like I got a pretty raw deal [in Arizona]," says Backman. "It's tough when it's your whole life. I've missed baseball for two years." Just before Christmas, Backman, 47, punched his return ticket to the game. The 2004 Sporting News minor league manager of the year—who hit .320 as a second baseman for the New York Mets in their world championship season of 1986—was hired to manage the South Georgia Peanuts of the independent South Coast League, which starts its season in May.
Backman spent the last two years hunting and fishing in his hometown of Prineville, Ore. When he tired of that ("You can only hunt and fish so much," he says), he opened a New York--style deli. He also worked with his son Wally Jr., a first baseman in the Rangers system. "My goals haven't changed," the elder Backman says. "I want to manage in the big leagues, and I think I'll get an opportunity."