Bobby Bonilla Day: Why The Mets Are Paying The Retired Player Over $1 Million Today

Bobby Bonilla with the Mets in 1999
Al Bello / Getty Images

Today is July 1, which is the annual Bobby Bonilla Day — it’s the day the retired major league baseball player, who last played in 2001, will receive his annual payment of $1.19 million from the New York Mets.

It’s a story of short-sighted ownership and New York Mets ineptitude, which also involved none other than disgraced financier Bernie Madoff.

Per ESPN.com, Bobby Bonilla Day arose out of a deal the Mets made with Bonilla in early 2000. That year, the team agreed to buy out Bonilla’s contract, which had $5.9 million remaining at the time. As part of the deal, the Mets agreed to pay Bonilla just under $1.2 million every year between 2011 and 2035.

Bonilla signed a contract with the Mets in 1992 that made him the highest-paid player in baseball at the time; he will make more money from the Mets on the post-retirement contract than on that one.

The Mets’ owners, who were close with Madoff, at the time had ties to a Madoff-associated account that “promised double-digit returns over the course of the deal,” meaning they would make a profit on the money for Bonilla. Madoff’s securities business was exposed as a massive Ponzi scheme in 2008, sending him to prison.

The $1.2 million may not be a huge number by baseball salary numbers, but Bonilla will still be paid more this season than Mets star first baseman Pete Alonso, who will make $550,000 this season.

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Bonilla, who last played for the Mets in 1999, is 56 years old, and will continue collecting the payments until he is 72. Another Mets player from a few years earlier, Bret Saberhagen, received a similar deal, as the Mets agreed to pay him $250,000 a year for a 25-year period beginning in 2004, which was long after Saberhagen was out of baseball.

Bonilla, a New York City native, was a third baseman and outfielder. He played 16 seasons in the majors for several teams, enjoying his greatest success with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins. Bonilla actually had two stints with the Mets, arriving first as a big-name free agent in the early 1990s, and then returning to New York in 1999, when the Mets had re-emerged as a contender.

Bonilla, per Newsday, was considered something of a disappointment in both of his stints with the Mets, and part of the reason for his second departure was that he had been found to have played cards in the locker room with teammate Ricky Henderson during a playoff game in the 1999 season.