Happy Bobby Bonilla Day! July 1 means time for Mets to pay off brutal contractJuly 1, 2020
If not for Bernie Madoff, the Mets may not have made the 2000 World Series. If not for Madoff, the Mets may not have drafted David Wright.
If not for the perpetrator of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, the Mets may not own one of baseball’s most ridiculed deals.
The 10th annual Bobby Bonilla Day is upon us, during which the 57-year-old former outfielder — who retired from baseball in 2001 — will collect a check for $1,193,248.20 from the team he disappointed during two separate stints. The Mets owed Bonilla $5.9 million when they released him after the 1999 season, and agreed to defer the payments through 2035 — at 8 percent interest — largely because the Wilpons had been told their account with Madoff would produce annual profits of at least 10 percent.
So, as Madoff serves 150 years in prison and the Wilpons search for a buyer of their cash-hemorrhaging club, Bonilla gets paid more by the Mets than Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, adding to an ever-growing windfall, which will reach nearly $30 million when the deal expires in 2035.
“I know Bobby is happy about it, but we don’t talk about it much,” Bonilla’s former agent, Dennis Gilbert, told USA TODAY Sports in 2018. “It’s just unfortunate they got hood-winked in the Madoff deal. Otherwise, it would have been a win-win for both sides.”
In addition to the investments with Madoff, Mets ownership was motivated to postpone paying Bonilla in order to invest in a roster which had just made the NLCS for the first time in 11 years. Less than two weeks before cutting Bonilla, the Mets acquired 2000 NLCS MVP Mike Hampton ($5.75 million) and starting outfielder Derek Bell ($5 million).
When Hampton left as a free agent for Colorado one year later, the Mets earned a compensatory draft pick, used to select David Wright. When Wright and the Mets won the 2015 NL pennant, Bonilla made more than the team’s four World Series starters (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz).
From 1992 to 1994, Bonilla made more than any player in the majors. The Bronx native first returned home for a five-year, $29 million deal, which also included deferred payments. Since 2004, the Mets and Orioles — who traded for him in 1995 — have split a separate $500,000 annual payment to Bonilla, which will continue through 2023.
The infamous deal becomes more astounding each year.
“You make some bad and some good deals,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon told The Post this year. “This one was a deferred-compensation arrangement, which are common.”
The offer of every retiree’s dreams wasn’t agreed to as quickly as most people assume.
“It was questioned from the inception because people wondered whether getting 8 percent interest was a good deal. At the time, we were having double-digit inflation, and people were thinking, “Geez, could he have made more money investing in other things?’” Gilbert said. “Bobby needed to understand how it worked, too, and Bobby is very conservative guy. He wanted to make sure he had money for the future. He was concerned about taking care of his family. But when you look at it now, 8% is not a very conservative number, especially guaranteed.”
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