Kendrick put more stock in the police report. The Diamondbacks' private investigator uncovered the whole disturbing rap sheet on Backman: the DUI, the probation and the domestic violence incident as well as the bitter 1995 divorce from Margie, during which she obtained a temporary restraining order after accusing Wally of beating her. This was another piece of apparently damning evidence seized upon in newspaper accounts. Yet a closer look reveals that the restraining order was obtained ex parte, a legal term which means that only the party seeking the order has to be present when the judge grants it. Almost anyone can request such an order, and in the course of divorce litigation, many people do. Margie Backman did not show up at the hearing during which Wally contested the order, resulting in its immediate cancellation. (Margie Backman did not respond to SI's repeated requests for comment.)
Still, from the team's point of view, what had emerged was a troubling pattern of drunkenness and domestic violence. When Kendrick confronted him about the 2001 incident, Backman stuck to his story: It was just a husband-wife argument that got a little out of hand. "His explanation was totally inconsistent with the police reports," says Kendrick. "There was a mountain of problems off the field.... He is not of a stature to manage a major league baseball team.
"Not that you can't accept somebody as part of your organization who has made a mistake," says Kendrick. "But there is a pattern--his unwillingness to recognize that he may have a problem with alcohol and his unwillingness to even be truthful with us, to own up to any of these events.... Even if he had been honest, I think we would have made the same decision. [Otherwise] we would have been left with a manager who, about two months after we put him on our payroll, would have been serving jail time."
The team now felt it had no choice but to back away from its troubled manager. The Diamondbacks fired Backman on Nov. 5. He had been their manager for five days.
Wally Backman is hunched over a fly vise, tying deer hair around a nymph lure. His glasses perched low on his nose, he moves his hands up and over the fake yellow bug with surprising grace and delicacy. After he clips off strands of golden fur with nail scissors, he picks up a cigarette and takes a drag. As major leaguers toil in spring training, trying to relocate their fastballs and batting swings, Backman spent February and March in the hills outside Prineville, stalking a completely different kind of game.
His paneled den has a giant-screen TV in one corner and a signed '86 Mets poster on the wall; on the coffee table is a cribbage board shaped like the state of Oregon. "I was young and dumb," Backman says of his not-too-distant past. "I made mistakes and did things that I'm not proud of. But when will this end? When can I get on with my life?" He points out that through the hundreds of pages of petitions, summonses and filings, one central fact emerges: His last brush with the law was in October 2001, a full three years before he was hired and fired by the Diamondbacks.
Should a man still be held accountable for an incident that, though troubling, seems isolated? Not if the incident is truly isolated. But if Backman's 2001 domestic violence charge is part of a pattern of behavior he has not yet broken, then perhaps Arizona was right in firing him. Or is Backman guilty of nothing more than having had one very bad night after drinking too much? Drinking, Backman points out, has hardly been a disqualification for being a big league manager--or player. "I'm not an alcoholic," he says. "I have a glass of wine with dinner once in a while or I'll have a beer."
Why, then, did he admit to being an alcoholic in a statement to the court in 1999? "That was to get into [the] diversion program instead of pleading guilty," he says. (Only those who admit to having an alcohol problem qualify for Washington's deferred prosecution program for DUIs.)
"They've made me out to be this bad person," Backman says, shaking his head. "I'm no saint. I've got a past. But now [they say] I'm a drunken wife-beater. How can I get a job now? You look at your accomplishments, and then it gets taken away just like that. Now, if I have a drink, one drink, I'm an alcoholic. That's ridiculous. And then to go back to jail for this old stuff.... "
In January he served seven days in Benton County jail, two days longer than his major league managerial career.