This Day in Baseball History — How Bernie Madoff Made Bobby Bonilla A Lot Of Money

4 mins read


If you are a lifelong baseball fan like I am, then you are probably aware that today is “Bobby Bonilla Day.”

If you are not a baseball fan, you might wonder why in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown, at some point today the New York Mets nevertheless paid Bobby Bonilla $1.19 million for his contributions this season.

Bonilla is an outfielder who is a switch hitter with decent power to all fields, a high percentage hitter, and an above-average fielder with decent speed although he’s not blazing fast.  He’s a lifetime .279 hitter, with over 2000 hits, nearly 300 home runs, a six time All Star, and owns one World Series Championship ring.

At one time earlier in his career he was the highest paid player in the National League.

But, if you ask me, $1.19 million is a lot to pay a 57 year old outfielder who rarely — if ever — sees the field.

So what brilliant franchise building scheme — something the Mets are well-known for — includes a $1.19 million payment to a 57 year old outfielder every year on July 1?

Bobby Bonilla was the highest paid player in the National League when the New York Mets signed him to a 5 year, $29 million contract in 1991.  But Bonilla’s play on the field for the Mets never quite rose to his play with the Pittsburg Pirates which earned him the free agent offer from the Mets.  Bonilla was traded by the Mets to the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.  From 1996 to 1998 he played for the Orioles, Florida Marlins, and LA Dodgers before the Mets reacquired him in after the end of the 1998 season.  But his play for the Mets in 1999, his only season back with them, was lackluster once again and the Mets decided to release him even though they would still owe him $5.9 million on the new contract they gave him when they resigned him prior to the 1999 season.

But Bonilla’s agent offered the Mets an unusual deal — his agent had been an insurance agent before becoming a sports agent, and had a rather unique insight into the use of annuities in structuring future payments.  Bonilla’s agent proposed that Bonilla would defer the $5.9 million in salary he was still owed on his contract for a period of ten years, in exchange for which the Mets would agree to pay Bonilla an annuitized payout over 25 years starting July 1, 2010.  The final payment would be July 1, 2035.

At the time, the Mets owner was Fred Wilpon, who had a sizable portion of his personal fortune invested with Bernie Madoff, and was earning consistent annual “returns” of 10% from Madoff.

But as most are aware, Madoff was arrested in 2008 and charged with running the largest Ponzi Scheme in US history.

The Mets agreed to Bonilla’s proposal, and it has been reported that a significant reason for Wilpon’s willingness to fund over $25 million in a payout to Bonilla from 2010 to 2035 was the rate of return, and consistency of return, he was receiving from his investments with Madoff.

So Bobby Bonilla earned $1.19 million today, as he will every July 1st for the next 15 years.

But, I still think that the $1.19 million he will receive on July 1, 2035 is too much for a 72 year old outfielder — even one with power.

 

 

 



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