- Mar 20, 2005
Bobby Bonilla Day: Mets embrace mock holiday that pays former slugger, 'No one forgets July 1'
It’s the mock holiday that New York Mets’ fans love to hate, tormenting the franchise, and blamed for all of the team’s woes.
Now, on the 10th anniversary Thursday of Bobby Bonilla Day, instead of hiding from the contract albatross that pays the retired slugger $1,193,248.20 every July 1 through 2035, the Mets, for the first time, are actually embracing it.
The Mets want to turn a horrific financial decision into a real baseball holiday, celebrating Bonilla’s business acumen.
Considering Steve Cohen is the richest owner in baseball, worth about $15 billion, he can appreciate a man with great business sense.
“It’s amazing, people stop me all the time,’’ Bonilla, 58, told USA TODAY Sports. “People forget my birthday, but no one forgets July 1. I get more texts and calls that day than any other during the year.’’
Cohen, who was quite aware of Bonilla’s annual salary when he purchased 95% of the team in October for $2.475 billion, reached out to Bonilla three weeks later.
It wasn’t about trying to pay him off.
It certainly wasn’t to complain.
Cohen suggested that they have a Bobby Bonilla Day every year at Citi Field, with Bonilla paraded in a car around the field, and presented an oversized check for all of the fans to see.
While the logistics of the ceremony couldn’t be completed in time this year, the Mets instead have decided to host a Bobby Bonilla Day on July 28.
They engaged in a promotion with Airbnb where four fans can watch the Mets play the Atlanta Braves in a VIP suite. The fans can spend the night in the two double beds, have permission to use Mets’ weight room and showers the following morning, and even throw out the first pitch the following day game against Atlanta.
Bobby Bonilla last played for the Mets in 1999.
The fee is $250, with the first party of four to sign up on July 8, and have their own Bobby Bo experience, complete with a virtual greeting video from Bonilla.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that Steve and the Mets are doing,’’ said Bonilla, a special assistant with the Major League Baseball Players Association. “Steve reached out to me, which was pretty cool. I’ve known Mr. Cohen for quite a while. We’ve had dinner together in Greenwich, Conn. We have a good relationship.
“We may do the other things at some point in time, but they came up with this idea, which I think is a wonderful promotion.’’
While Mets fans may consider the contract an albatross, particularly when former Mets owner Fred Wilpon struggled to meet payroll after being swindled in the Bernie Madoff scandal, Bonilla says he never hears a negative word.
“Strangers will stop me and say, 'Oh, my God, that’s the greatest deal ever,’’’ Bonilla said. “I just say, 'Thank you. Thank you!’ They’re very respectful. They think it’s great.
“Even traveling [Wednesday to North Carolina] and on the golf course with my son, four or five people stopped me and said, 'It’s Bobby Bonilla Day tomorrow.’
“I said, 'Indeed, it is!'’’
It was back in 1999 when the Mets released Bonilla but still owed him $5.9 million. Instead of taking a paycut, Bonilla and agent Dennis Gilbert agreed to a deferred deal proposed by the Mets.
The Mets, beginning in 2011, would start making payments, with 8% interest, worth a total of $29.8 million.
It proved to be a stroke of genius.
It would have been quite easy, at the time, simply to take the $5.9 million from the Mets, stick in the checking account, go on a spending spree, and not think twice about the future.
Bonilla, after all, was the highest-paid player in team sports when he signed a five-year, $29 million contract in December, 1991, and five years later received a four-year, $28 million contract from the Marlins. He was traded back to the Mets two years later.
“Bobby was bigger than life in New York,’’ said Gilbert, who is now co-managing partner of Padradigm Gilbert, a financial consulting and insurance firm in Beverly Hills, California “We went out to dinner with Mets’ ownership one night, walked from the hotel to the restaurant, and it took us an hour to walk three blocks. Bobby was stopped and recognized on the street by everyone, and signed autographs and took pictures.
“He really embraced New York, and at the end of the day, that’s what put New York over the top.’’
Bobby Bonilla is introduced at a press conference in November 1998.
Eight years later, in his second tour of the Mets, Bonilla was released after hitting .160 with four homers in 60 games in 1999. The Mets, still on the hook for his $5.9 million salary in 2000, proposed a deferred payment plan.
The Wilpons, who believed they were making a killing with their investments with Madoff, thought it would be a financial bonanza to invest the $5.9 million owed to Bonilla and simply pay him in deferred annual payments.
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“Bobby listened, and asked a lot of questions,’’ said Gilbert, who represented many of the game’s biggest stars, including the likes of Hall of Famers George Brett, Rickey Henderson and Trevor Hoffman, along with Barry Bonds, Bret Saberhagen and Jose Canseco. “He was always a very conservative guy. I knew it was a great deal, and so did Bobby, giving him guaranteed money when he was out of baseball. There were a lot of guys who resisted and a few years out of their game, they don’t have any money. There are players today who take care of a lot of people, but they don’t take care of themselves.
“It’s not how much you make, or how much you have, it’s how much you keep. Bobby is financially set for life.
“That’s why Bobby Bonilla Day should be a celebration for players, not people ripping Bobby Bonilla.’’
Bonilla, who’s also doing a promotion for Mint Mobile service beginning today, with users able to pay $100 a year for the next 25 years, says he hopes he can be an inspiration for all athletes.
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“I’d love to see more guys get with the right financial advisor and put money away,’’ Bonilla said. “A lot of guys have money thrown their way, and they don’t know how to handle it. They lose their money or have their money taken away.
“There’s a lot of horror stories out there from athletes to movie stars to musical entertainers. They have people who take advantage of them. I was lucky having Dennis, with people who truly looked out for me. I’d like to see more guys put it away, have that safety net, and not be afraid of it.’’
And one day, perhaps as soon as next year, Bobby Bonilla Day will be a real celebration at Citi Field. It could be complete with all of the pomp and circumstance, along with a Mets’ owner who looks happy handing out a $1.2 million check, even to someone who hasn’t put on a uniform in two decades .
“Steve thought it would be pretty cool,’’ Bonilla said, “but just to be patient for it. I can wait. Just like the passionate Mets’ fans have waited for their team to be great again.
“I know one thing, it’s a pretty damn exciting time.’’