A lot has changed in our world over the past year. It seems that everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. The country is on the verge of falling apart. Arizona, Florida, and Texas are getting exactly what they deserve for not believing in Science. An election that could tear us apart is on the horizon. Every sport’s short term future is threatened. But one thing hasn’t changed. A sports moment that brings everyone together in a moment of joy.
July 1st is, of course, the day that the New York Mets have to pay Bobby Bonilla a million dollars.
For those who aren’t familiar, Bobby Bonilla Day is the day every year that the New York Mets cut a check to their former player for 1.19 million dollars. This will be the tenth year that the Mets have done this. They will be doing this for another 15 years. Bobby Bonilla hasn’t played for the Mets since 1999, and his playing career ended in 2001. So how is it that the former All Star teammate of Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh will continue to be paid over a million dollars per year until he is 72? Bernie Madoff. That’s why.
Bobby Bonilla was a four time All Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates who, after the 1991 season, would sign a long term contract with the New York Mets that would net him around six million dollars per year. He made two All Star teams as a Met before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles midway through the 1995 season. He would then find himself traded several other times before ending up back on the Mets in 1999. By this point, his productivity had trailed off, and he was more of a liability than an asset. With one year, and 5.9 million dollars left on his contract, the Mets opted to buy him out, and pay him that money not to be on the team.
Upon the buyout, the Mets cut a deal with Bonilla. If he would defer the 5.9 million for a decade, they would pay him the equivalent of 29 million dollars in 25 equal installments. If this sounds ridiculous, it is to normal people. To rich people, it means that, instead of paying a bulk payment at one time, they can put a quantity of money in the bank, and pay the player later with the interest accrued with that money. It’s a common practice in sports when the money is being handled by billionaires who know what they are doing with their money, or have at least hired the proper people to handle their money for them.
The Mets are not one of these smart teams. They are owned by Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff. They are like Goofus and Gallant, but if they were both Goofus. The Wilpons are the sports equivalent of getting your foot stuck in a bucket, over and over, season after season.
While many sports owners find investment bankers and financiers to handle things like this, the Mets did the most Mets thing humanly possible, and enlisted Bernie Madoff to be their money guy. And if you are wondering where you heard that name before, it’s because in 2008, Madoff was arrested for running one of the largest Ponzi Schemes in human history, having essentially stolen 16 billion dollars from rubes like the Wilpons.
After this debacle, Major League Baseball should have stepped in and seized the team from the WIlpons, and sold it to the highest bidder. Instead the league stood off to the side as the father/son duo cut every corner and pinched every penny, making their own team irrelevant in the biggest city in the country. Recently, they have tried to sell the team, but buyers have backed out twice now when, after the negotiations have been agreed to, right before paperwork is signed, the Wilpons have tried to demand that they get to stay in charge of baseball operations. Being that they are the baseball ownership equivalent of the Bay of Pigs, all prospective owners have walked away.
And so it is, Bobby Bonilla Day acts as a monument to greed, stupidity, and dumb rich people getting what is coming to them. Even if Major League Baseball had played their entire season this year, 65% of the league would have made less money than 57 year old Bobby Bonilla will this season. Top young players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Fernando Tatis Jr. will each earn 236k this season is the full 60 game season is played. The guy who finished 16th in the 1989 NL MVP race will own four times that.
God bless you Bobby Bonilla. You shook down some idiots and will continue pulling down a paycheck 34 years after you stepped off a baseball field. We celebrate Bobby because we all dream to be Bobby. He outsmarted the system. Cheers to you.