If you’re an avid baseball fan or at least follow professional sports, then it’s highly likely you’ll know July 1 each year marks “Bobby Bonilla Day” – a day the retired baseball player receives a whopping $1.193 million check from the New York Mets though the last time he played an MLB game was in 2001.
In what has been described as one of the most unprecedented deferred salary arrangements in sporting history, the retired 58-year-old baseball player will continue receiving the annual payment until 2035, according to CNN. This means he’ll be 72 when he receives his final check from the baseball team.
Bonilla was initially entitled to a $5.9 million payment when the Mets reached a deal to buy out his contract in 1999. However, the retired baseball star and his agent managed to strike a deferred payment agreement that would see Bonilla earn over $20 million at the end of a stipulated period.
But how did Bonilla and his agent manage to strike such a deal and why did the New York Mets think it was beneficial to the establishment? Per CNN, Bonilla’s agent, Dennis Gilbert, reached out to the team’s hierarchy to propose they hold off paying him the money owed until 2011 with an annual interest rate of 8%.
And though the conditions of the proposal may have sounded absurd at the time it was tabled, former Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon consented to it. Wilpon, who had invested funds in Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme at the time, believed the returns he’ll be receiving from his investment would ultimately be more than Bonilla’s buyout payment even if it was delayed by the stipulated time. Things, however, did not work out that way.
In an interview with FOX Sports to mark this year’s Bobby Bonilla Day, Gilbert explained the rationale behind negotiating the deal that would later turn out to be very lucrative for his client.
“You know, I had a lot of friends that were coming out of the game of baseball, and they were running out of money. I was trying to think of what I could do and was thinking of some ideas of how to go about it, and this is what I came up with. This isn’t the only deal I did like this. I actually did this with a lot of other guys. This was just the biggest one.
“A lot of players were controlled by the stockbrokers,” Gilbert said. “They would always promise they could do better if just given the money upfront, but they don’t.”
Asked if Bonilla was supportive of the deferred payment proposal and the unprecedented conditions, Gilbert said his client was good to go after asking a ton of questions. “Bobby always asked a lot of questions. He was very curious about everything,” Gilbert recalled. “Being in the insurance business, I was very persuasive, and Bobby actually got it. He was very much so on board with it way, more so than many of my other clients.”
And inasmuch as the deal ultimately benefited just Bonilla – and not the Mets – the team’s new owner, Steven Cohen, nevertheless wants the day to be marked. On Thursday, the team announced an AirBnB package that would allow fans to stay at its Citi Field facility in addition to granting them access to use certain amenities including the team gym and shower, ESPN reported.
Named “Private room hosted by Bobby”, the package would also afford a fan the privilege of throwing the first ceremonial pitch prior to the Mets July 28 game against the Atlanta Braves. Last year, Cohen also floated the idea of handing Bonilla an oversized check each year to mark the day and also crown it off with a lap drive around the stadium. However, the proposed event could not be arranged on time – hence the AirBnB package, according to USA Today Sports.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that Steve and the Mets are doing,” Bonilla told the news outlet about the idea. “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, Connecticut. We have a good relationship.”
He added: “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.”
On a lighter note, the 58-year-old also said people even remember July 1 more than his actual birthday. “People forget my birthday, but no one forgets July 1. I get more texts and calls that day than any other during the year,” he said.