Former Major League Baseball player Bobby Bonilla turned 57 earlier this year. I hope he had a nice time.
But I suspect there’s another day each year he might celebrate even more heartily than his birthday.
That would be July 1, which is the day every year on which the New York Mets give Bonilla a check for $1,193,248.20 (or maybe a wire transfer; it’s 2021, after all), despite the fact that he hasn’t played for them since 1999.
Here’s the story.
Bonilla played for eight teams in his 16 years in the major leagues. He went to the All Star Game six times, and won the World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
It’s his time with the Marlins and the Mets that concerns us here.
First, Florida, because that’s the team with which he signed a $23 million contract in 1996.
Next, New York, because that’s the team he was later traded to, and which was on the hook for the final year of his salary—$5.9 million for the 2000 season—despite the fact that his skills had deteriorated by then, and there wasn’t any room for him on the club.
With all that in mind, Bonilla and his agent made the Mets an offer. Instead of paying him the $5.9 million he was owed right away, the Mets could instead defer the whole thing for more than a decade, then pay Bonilla nearly $1.2 million a year for 25 years, starting in 2011.
The math included 8% annual interest, and the team jumped at the option—largely because its owners at the time, the Wilpon family, were clients (victims) of Bernie Madoff, and they believed they were making much more than 8% interest on their investments.
Bonilla now gets this deal every year until 2035, when he’ll be 72 years old. He actually has a second, similar deal, too: $500,000 a year for 25 years, which he worked out with the Mets and Orioles based on another contract.
How unusual is this? Well, deferred salaries aren’t unheard of, although they’re usually for a shorter period of time—and without the ghost of Bernie Madoff hovering over the deal.
The granddaddy of them all was apparently a deal former pitcher Bret Saberhagen made—also with the Mets—which pays him $250,000 a year until 2039. Apparently, that’s what inspired Bonilla and his agent.
Now, I suppose there’s an argument that this isn’t such a great deal for Bonilla, in that had he simply taken the $5.9 million at the turn of the last century, there are things he could have done with the money that might have made a lot more than 8% return.
But hindsight is 20/20, and as a counterpoint, there are a lot of stories of pro athletes who make a lot of money but ultimately wind up burning through it much sooner than others think they would in their position.
Me, I think that one thing both baseball and money have in common is that all else being equal, you’d like there to be some consistency and predictability in the mix.
At least this way, Bonilla knows that he has a nice big payment coming every year, no matter what.
So, on Thursday, wish your favorite Mets fan a Happy Bobby Bonilla Day.
In truth, they don’t like that their team is still paying this former player; they liked it even less when their current owner (not the Wilbon family) floated the idea of holding a big celebration every July 1.
“Let’s take a vote,” owner Steven Cohen wrote on Twitter. “How about we have a Bobby Bonilla Day every year. Hand him an oversized check and drive a lap around the stadium? Could be fun.”
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