Rockies Will Finally Finish Paying Mike Hampton, 18 Years Later

Chris Trotman Getty Images

This week, the Colorado Rockies will formally close the books on one of the worst free-agent signings in baseball history, when they make the last of their deferred payments to pitcher Mike Hampton, baseball writer Jon Heyman reported on Twitter. The payment will arrive 18 years after the contract was signed, 16 years after Hampton last pitched for the Rockies, and eight years after Hampton threw his last pitch in the major leagues.

Following a standout 2000 season in which he pitched in the World Series for the New York Mets, Hampton hit free agency that winter and signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Colorado Rockies, a deal which was the largest contract in baseball history at the time, although Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers was signed later that offseason. Hampton, during his free agency, had announced that he was basing his decision in part on the quality of the schools in the area, and that both his parents and those of his wife would move to whatever city he chose to play in.

Hampton was a flop with the Rockies, and after two years he was traded to the Atlanta Braves (via the Florida Marlins), and achieved something of a career resurgence in his first two years with Atlanta. Despite various injuries, Hampton hung around baseball for eight more years after that trade, announcing his retirement from the game during spring training in 2011. Hampton, after retiring, briefly served as the bullpen coach for one of his former teams, the Seattle Mariners.

Because contracts in baseball are guaranteed, Hampton continued to earn that huge salary regardless of how well he pitched and whether he was healthy or injured. The Rockies deal also included $19 million in deferred money, which Hampton continued to collect until the final payment arrives this week.

Such deferred-compensation schemes are relatively common when it comes to large baseball contracts. The most infamous one is probably the contract handed out by the New York Mets to Bobby Bonilla, also in 2000. In order to get out of paying Bonilla his contract for that season, the Mets reached a deal which resulted in them having to pay Bonilla about $1.2 million every year for 25 years, between 2011 and 2035. The deal, which reportedly was connected to the Mets’ owners’ relationship with disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, requires the Mets to pay that amount to Bonilla every year on July 1, even though he hasn’t played baseball since 2001.