Tomorrow is July 1st so you should probably go out and buy some champagne and a party platter. No, we're not celebrating the 59th anniversary of Rwanda gaining independence from Belgium. No, we're not celebrating the 49th anniversary of the day Sony introduced the Walkman. Tomorrow is the day we celebrate what is arguably the most-famous contract in sports history. Tomorrow is Bobby Bonilla Day!
For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, when Bobby Bonilla wakes up tomorrow he will receive $1.4 million from the New York Mets. Why is that a big deal? Because Bobby doesn't play for the Mets. In fact, he hasn't played professional baseball in twenty years. He's 58 years old.
Why on earth is a man who is a few years shy of being social security-eligible still earning millions from the Mets? FYI, $1.4 million is enough to rank Bobby Bonilla as 14th highest-paid player on the Mets 2021 roster!
This is one of the best stories in the CelebrityNetWorth universe.
A Quick History
During his career Bobby earned a combined $52 million in salary over 16 seasons between 1986 and 2001. He played third base and right field, ending his career with batting average of .279, 287 home runs and 1,173 RBIs. He was a six-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger and a World Series Champion in 1997.
At the peak of his career he was one of the best players in baseball, routinely hitting 20 home runs and driving in 100 RBIs each season.
In 1991, Bobby was lured away from the Pittsburgh Pirates by the New York Mets with a five-year, $29 million contract. Believe it or not, earning around $6 million per year in 1991 (roughly $12 million in today's dollars) was enough to make Bobby the highest-paid baseball player in history up to that point and the highest-paid athlete in the world.
Here's a breakdown of the four highest-paid athletes in the world in 1992:
- Bobby Bonilla – $5.9 million
- Patrick Ewing – $5.5 million
- Dan Marino – $5 million
- Wayne Gretzky – $3.1 million
Bobby ended up bouncing over the Orioles a few years later, then the Florida Marlins and the LA Dodgers before landing back with the Mets.
In 1999, with one year left on his contract with the Mets, Bobby averaged just .160 with four home runs and 18 RBIs. He spent much of the season arguing with the team's manager and the season ended with an embarrassing incident in which Bobby and teammate Rickey Henderson were caught playing cards in the dugout while their team lost the final game of the NLCS.
Needless to say, there wasn't much love between Bonilla and the Mets organization.
Unfortunately, the Mets still owed Bobby $5.9 million.
An Unusual Contract Proposal
Knowing that his best years were behind him and that this $5.9 million would be his last big paycheck, Bobby and his agent went to the Mets management with a proposal.
Instead of paying him $5.9 million that he was owed the following year, they proposed that the Mets pay $29.8 million over 25 years… with the first payment not due until 2011. So in other words, $1.2 million per year every year, starting in 2011 and ending in 2035.
And where did this idea come from? This was actually not the first unusual contract Bobby negotiated with the Mets. Back in 1994 the Mets agreed to take half of the $6 million he was owed for the 1994-1995 season and pay it in $250,000 installments over 25 years starting in 2023.
So technically, Bobby was proposing that the Mets pay him $1.4 million per year long into his retirement.
And that's when the story takes a quick detour into the world of…
From 1986 until September 2020, the Mets were owned by a guy named Fred Wilpon. Fred sold the team to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen for $2.35 billion.
Back in 1999, Fred and the Mets were heavily invested with Bernie Madoff. They basically used the Madoff as the team bank. This was very smart because, before the fraud was exposed, Fred was reliably getting 13% average annual returns through Madoff.
Fred did some quick math and realized that Bobby's proposal was actually a bargain for the team.
Even if the Mets "only" got an 8% return on the $5.9 million they saved in 1999, over 30 years that would balloon to nearly $60-70 million. And $60-70 million is much larger than $29.8 million. Simple math.
Unfortunately, as we all know now, Madoff was one of the largest fraudsters in history. Fred Wilpon personally wound up losing $700 million because of Madoff, including $160 million in fake profits was ordered to pay back. He came perilously close to being forced to sell the Mets in 2009/2010.
And obviously the fraud also wiped out the math that made Bobby Bonilla's 25-year contract compute. But that doesn't mean the Mets are off the hook!
Every year between now and 2028, Bobby will earn $1.4 million every July 1st ($1.2 million +225k from the two contracts). Then from 2028 through 2035 he'll earn $1.2 million (because the first unusual contract will have run out).
Bobby Bonilla Day
So how exactly does Bobby receive his $1.4 million on Bobby Bonilla Day? Until recently I assumed wire transfer.
According to a recent NPR "Planet Money" interview, Bobby receives a paper check every year. A paper check that he physically drives to a bank to deposit. Does he not have a mobile deposit app? Or maybe you can't mobile deposit a large check? I hope to answer this question for you all some day!