Opinion: There is no contract more legendary than Bobby Bonilla’s deal
The New York Mets, desperately trying to return to the postseason in Major League Baseball’s upcoming 60-game season, whipped out their checkbook and acquired three veteran free agents in the last 24 hours.
They signed outfielder Melky Cabrera, infielder Gordon Beckham and reliever Jared Hughes. If they make the Mets’ big-league roster, they’ll be paid a combined total of $948,443.
Yep, just $244,805 less than their 57-year-old infielder/outfielder who hasn’t played a day for them in 21 years, but will be the seventh highest-paid position player on their payroll this year.
The name: Bobby Bonilla.
Once again Wednesday, just as they have every July 1 since 2011, the Mets are writing out a check to Bonilla for $1,193,248.20.
It’s that annual day on the baseball calendar that every Mets’ fan now knows by heart, leaving them screaming into the night: Bobby Bonilla Day.
There are hundreds of players who have received deferred salaries over the years, but no contract is more legendary than Bonilla’s deal. He signed a five-year, $29 million contract in 1991, the largest in baseball history at the time, that now pays him through 2035.
Bobby Bonilla last played in the majors in 2001. (Photo: Russell Beeker, USA TODAY Sports)
The man who orchestrated the deal, former powerful agent Dennis Gilbert, now a Chicago White Sox executive, figures he’ll be spending nearly all day Wednesday answering inquiries about it from his Beverly Hills, California, home.
Gilbert has negotiated thousands of player contracts from Barry Bonds to George Brett to selling life insurance policies to Michael Jackson to Robin Williams to Michael Landon in the entertainment industry, but not a single one has generated anything remotely close to the fascination of Bonilla’s deal.
BONILLA: Why Mets pay $1.19M to him every July 1
TOLES:Dodgers OF is now homeless, hospitalized
“I’ve always been so sensitive to players being financially stable after retirement,’’ Gilbert told USA TODAY Sports. “What is a ballplayer trained for in the after-life? It’s like being a King. It trains you for nothing else.
“In Bobby’s case, I wanted to make sure Bobby was secure for life.’’
Bonilla was bigger than life at the time. He had four teams offering him at least $25 million in free agency, Gilbert said, including the Philadelphia Phillies, California Angels and the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first night in New York during negotiations, Bonilla and Gilbert ate at a restaurant three blocks away from their hotel.
“It took 45 minutes to get back,’’ Gilbert said. “Everyone kept stopping Bobby and asking for pictures and autographs. Bobby got back and said, “This is home!’’
Bonilla’s stay in New York lasted 3 ½ years when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, with the final two years of his salary deferred. He returned to the Mets in 1999, was released after the year, but still was owed $5.9 million in 2000. The Mets, wanting to free up cash, and believing they could easily finance the payments with investments they made with Bernie Madoff, negotiated a deal that would defer Bonilla’s payments at an 8% interest rate beginning in 2011.
It was a stroke of genius for Gilbert and Bonilla.
It was a disaster for the Mets, with Madoff sentenced to 150 years in prison as architect of world’s largest Ponzi scheme worth $64.8 billion.
The $29.8 million nest egg for Bonilla has turned into an sheer nightmare for Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon.
“Bobby was involved with the talks every step of the way,’’ Gilbert said. “Bobby was frugal. He didn’t need a lot of money to live on. He never lived extravagantly, always lived within his means. So he was always open to it from the inception.’’
And these days, with the federal interest rate at 0.25%, go ahead and try to find a better financial rate around the globe.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
“You look around this game, and you see what’s happening to guys,’’ said Gilbert, founder of the Baseball Professional Scouts Foundation. “You look at the layoffs. The huge salary cuts. It’s tough to survive.
“Thankfully, Bobby will never have to worry about that.’’
The only ones needing to worry will be the new owners of the Mets, with seven groups of investors interested in purchasing the team from the Wilpon family.
Let them cringe knowing that Bonilla will be paid nearly five times the amount of star Pete Alonso, who set a rookie record with 53 homers last year, and will be paid $241,674 in his prorated deal.
Alonso could be a star in this game.
He could be signing a lucrative deal one day, perhaps even setting a record.
But to think he’ll ever be paid nearly $1.2 million a year until the age of 72?
“I’m not sure,’’ Gilbert says, “we’ll ever see anything like it again.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
Source: Read Full Article