By John Torenli
Wally Backman’s managerial stint on Coney Island was the stuff of legend.
The former Mets second baseman, and integral member of the 1986 World Series-winning team, guided the Brooklyn Cyclones to their most wins in a single season and an appearance in the New York-Penn League Championship Series before shuffling off to Double-A Buffalo for the 2011 season.
A fan favorite in his familiar No. 6 jersey, the fiery skipper developed talent, bred winners and brought some much-needed heat back to the bench and along the third-base line at MCU Park during his lone summer with the Class A short-season franchise by the sea.
Backman, who will be managing the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo this season and potentially running the parent club before too long, will turn in his traditional uniform number this season to honor former teammate Gary Carter.
Carter’s No. 8 will be on Backman’s back when he officially begins his stint as Bisons manager on April 5 at Pawtucket.
The Oregon native and former Bay Ridge resident believes this is one of just many ways he can pay homage to the player he feels most influenced him during his 14-year stint in the Majors.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Backman said of Carter, who succumbed to brain cancer last month after a long, grueling battle with the deadly disease. “I always went to him for advice. No matter what time of day it was, he always had time for you.
“He was a great player,” added Backman, who got the news of Carter’s death just before his first organized meet and greet with Bisons fans in Buffalo on Feb. 16.
“Great human being, great teammate, great family man. I think a lot of us, if we could have fallen into a mode, we would have been Gary Carter.”
Never was Carter’s influence and steadfast resiliency more evident than the historic Game 6 of the ‘86 Fall Classic, when he sparked an incredible 10th-inning rally against the Red Sox with a two-out single.
“I made the first out, and Keith made the second out,” Backman recalled. “I can remember it like it was yesterday, it’s the perfect movie that we never thought we would ever see.”
Carter intimated to teammates before facing Calvin Shiraldi for that fateful at-bat that he would not be responsible for the final out of the season, urging those batting behind him to bring the same steely resolve to their plate appearances.
Moments later, Mookie Wilson’s infamous ground ball crept through the legs of Bill Buckner and Ray Knight rumbled home with the winning run as the Mets kept their championship hopes alive.
The Mets captured their second world title with a Game 7 victory, thanks in large part to the Hall of Fame catcher known simply as “The Kid.”