Screengrab via YouTube
Well, today is July 1st! It’s Canada Day for our neighbors to the north, rent is due for others out there, and it’s a happy birthday for so many more. But today is also “Bobby Bonilla Day.”
What is that, you ask? Who is Bobby Bonilla? Should you even care…?
In Major League Baseball, this day is certainly special to Bobby himself, one of the greatest batters of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and to the team that pays him over $1 million dollars on an annual basis. That team, to be exact, is the New York Mets, and every year on the first of July, they pay the former baseball All-Star $1,193,248.20 as part of a contract agreement. Hence, fans playfully refer to July 1 as “Bobby Bonilla Day.”
Bobby may be the only one celebrating today, though, as it marks the 12th time he’s collected a whopping check from the Mets. And if that many years — and corresponding number of million-dollar-plus checks — seems like a lot, hold on to your hat; the Mets are still on the hook to issue 13 more annual payments. That’s just over $15.5 million to go.
This deal, which is relatively unheard of in pro sports, was put together back in 1999. It was agreed at that time that Bonilla would take his release from the team in exchange for a deferred payment plan that was supposed to pay him what he was still contractually owed from the team, then $5.9 million. However, the deal stipulated that payments would stretch from 2011 until 2035, for which the total sum, after calculating added interest over all those years, added up to $29.8 million, which is what both parties agreed to.
Here’s where it got truly odd though; Fred Wilpon, who owned the Mets at that time, had considerable financial involvement with Ponzi scheme operator Bernie Madoff. And Wilpon accepted Bonilla’s offer of the deferred payments under the belief that the return on investments he had with Madoff would more than cover what he was agreeing to pay Bonilla. Obviously, it didn’t play out that way after Madoff’s schemes came to light, a media-heightened legal process process through which, oddly enough, the general public came to know about Bonilla’s highly-lucrative deal.
Wilpon stepped away from owning the Mets in 2020, but the team still honors the deal. According to sports business reporter Darren Rovell, there’s no word that the current Mets ownership plans to buy out the rest of Bonilla’s deal, just to finally end it all.
But Bobby’s been sitting pretty, year after year getting his annual check from the Mets. Not bad at all for a guy who hasn’t played baseball professionally since 2001.