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Happy Bobby Bonilla Day!

Today marks the funniest day of the sports year, as it’s the day when Bobby Bonilla, a 54-year-old man who hasn’t played professional baseball in 15 years, and hasn’t played for the Mets in 17 years, will be paid $1,193,248.20 dollars by the New York Mets.After a disappointing first stint with the Mets in the early 1990s when he was the highest-paid player in baseball, Bobby Bonilla returned to Queens in November 1998 in a trade with the Dodgers for relief pitcher Mel Rojas. Between his two tenures with the Mets, he played for the Orioles, Marlins and Dodgers, winning the 1997 World Series with Florida.

In the lone season of his second go-round, Bonilla played in only 60 games, the fewest of any season in his career. He hit .160 with four home runs and 18 RBIs.

A series of incidents and controversies marred Bonilla’s tenure and strained his relationship with Mets management. The final sign of Bonilla’s impending departure came when he spent the end of the last game of the 1999 NLCS playing cards with Rickey Henderson in the clubhouse.

Deferring Bonilla’s contract

For the Mets to get rid of Bonilla, they would be forced to eat all or some of his $5.9 million. Instead, both parties agreed to defer all payment with interest to 2011. Instead of $5.9 million, Bonilla receives about $1.2 million each year until 2035. Over the 25 years of payments, he will make more than he did on his five-year deal with the Mets from the early ’90s that made him the highest-paid player in baseball at the time.

This wasn’t the first time the Mets had made a deal like this. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bonilla’s agent said he had worked on a similar deal with the Mets and Bret Saberhagen to pay the former pitcher $250,000 per year for 25 years starting in 2004.

Bernie Madoff’s connection

The Mets have never really talked about the deal, but it is well known that their owners, the Wilpons, had many accounts with investor Bernie Madoff. Madoff was returning 12 to 15 percent a year in what we now know were fictional returns. So deferring deals wasn’t a problem because the payout would occur years later and the interest rate would be lower than the money they were (fictionally) getting back from Madoff. To see the deal as the Mets would have seen it, let’s say the Wilpons put $5.9 million into a Madoff account in 2000 and got a conservative (by Madoff standards) 10 percent annual return. By 2011, when they would have to pay Bonilla for the first time, they would have already grown their pot to $16.83 million. Even with paying off Bonilla every year, they would wind up with a $49 million profit on the deal. Of course, the Madoff returns weren’t real, which complicates this hindsight.

The other way to think of it is that the Mets didn’t have to pay Bonilla his $5.9 million in 2000 and could use it on other free agents. Sure enough, the Mets acquired Mike Hampton from the Astros right before they dumped Bonilla. Hampton’s cost was conveniently $5.75 million, and his 15-10 record was good enough to help get the Mets to the World Series that year for the first time since 1986.

Things only get better for Mets fans when you look down the timeline. After signing Hampton with money previously set aside for Bonilla, the Mets let him go to Colorado for a massive contract that he never lived up to. The Mets received a compensatory pick for their trouble, taking none other than captain David Wright.

So raise a glass and lets all toast Bobby Bonilla and his financial planner today!


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