Major League Baseball
What is Bobby Bonilla Day? Explaining the New York Mets' ongoing contract saga
Major League Baseball

What is Bobby Bonilla Day? Explaining the New York Mets' ongoing contract saga

Updated Dec. 12, 2023 9:33 a.m. ET

Major League Baseball might be intertwined with July 4, but another early-July holiday holds special significance for a significant portion of baseball fans.

That day is July 1, also known as "Bobby Bonilla Day." It's the day when the New York Mets pay their annual deferred fee to former player Bobby Bonilla — who last played an MLB game in October 2001.

Bonilla was owed $5.9 million when the Mets cut the aging player in 1999 and bought out the rest of his contract. Instead of paying him the sum up front, however, then-Mets owner Fred Wilpon cut a deal with Bonilla's camp. The Mets would pay Bonilla in installments, with annual interest, every year from 2011-2035. Those installments will eventually total nearly $30 million, much more than what Bonilla was owed, according to ESPN.

But there were several upsides for the Mets to pursue this strategy as well — at least, that's the way it looked at the time. The Mets used the $5.9 million to create an annuity with a securities investor they were heavily in business with at the time that would pay them back in annual dividends. By doing so, they also freed up that money from their payroll for MLB bylaws purposes, meaning that they could use it to sign other players without adding to the total roster payroll that the league could potentially levy taxes against. 


The investor with whom they created the account was known for paying back those dividends with high interest, so the Mets themselves thought they would reap the profits of millions of dollars over the course of the deal even when subtracting all the money they would pay Bonilla.

Just one problem — that investor's name was Bernie Madoff, and in 2009, Madoff was convicted of running the largest Ponzi scheme fraud in recorded history and sentenced to 150 years in prison. In other words, the profits that the Mets were counting on in their Bonilla strategy likely never came. The fallout of Madoff's crimes financially devastated the Mets, whose dealings with the corrupt money manager went far beyond their Bonilla agreement. The Mets struggled financially for the rest of Wilpon's tenure as owner until the team was sold to current owner Steve Cohen in late 2020.

Given the backdrop of Madoff's involvement, Wilpon's struggles in the later years of his ownership, and the general drama on and off the field that the Mets even to this day cannot seem to escape, "Bobby Bonilla Day" has become an ironic anti-holiday for fans who want to commemorate the fact that the Mets are paying a now-60-year-old — whose last MLB appearance came nearly 22 years ago — nearly $1.2 million on every July 1 until 2035.

Of course, as the folks over at For The Win pointed out, Bonilla is hardly alone in having a massively deferred contract. Several major MLB contracts over the last few years include large sums of deferred money installments that extend almost two decades into the future, such as Freddie Freeman's deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and current Mets star Francisco Lindor's extension. Of course, these deferments were agreed to when both players were still in their respective primes and not at the end of their careers like Bonilla.

Bonilla was not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. He made six All-Star teams and won three Silver Slugger Awards in the 1980s and 1990s. Pittsburgh Pirates fans likely remember Bonilla as one of the best hitters on the perennial early 90s playoff-contending teams that also featured a young Barry Bonds. Miami Marlins fans likely remember him as a key part of the team that won the franchise's first World Series title in 1997.

But to Mets fans and baseball fans in general, Bonilla — fairly or not — will be commemorated every year on the day when he becomes about $1 million richer.

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