At the turn of the 21st century, while the world scrambled to confront a Y2K threat to computers, Bobby Bonilla and the management of the New York Mets came to an agreement regarding salary—defer it. Well, a lot of it. From 2011 to 2035, Bonilla gets annual compensation somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.19 million. This financial ritual happens every July 1st—a nice way to start the second half of the year for the Bronx native, a multiple defensive threat at third base first base, and right field.
Bonilla was owed $5.9 million by the fellas in blue and orange; his last year in a major league uniform was 2001. Apparently, the Mets believed that the time value of money combined with comfortable returns from Bernie Madoff’s handling of accounts made the deferment a wise maneuver. It was a financial mistake—serious, if not epic.
Madoff, of course, proved to be an expert disciple of the Ponzi School of Fraud, with a major in Deceit.
Bonilla’s was not the first deal to backfire. And it will not be the last, certainly. Desi Arnaz negotiated the rights to the negatives of I Love Lucy. CBS acquiesced, figuring that nobody would watch an episode once it aired. I Love Lucy became a juggernaut in reruns.
IBM calculated that profits came from the sale of computers, not computer software. Consequently, it dismissed an opportunity to be a part of a little company started by a spectacled Harvard dropout from Washington state. Microsoft.
And there’s Peter Minuit getting Manhattan Island from the Dutch for 60 guilders—$24 in beads. Or so the legend goes.
Bonilla’s original deal, which closed in 1991, made him the “highest-paid player in team sports” because of an organization “with a flair for the dramatic and an unprecedented expenditure of cash,” wrote New York Times sports scribe Joe Sexton, who broke down the terms: guaranteed five-year contract, $27.5 million in base salary, and $1.5 million in a “promotional arrangement.”
It appeared to be a signal of a new era. Eddie Murray, as much a fixture of Baltimore as the Fort McHenry National Monument, signed with the Mets in the same off-season. “Bonilla may not be a colossal talent, but his acquisition registers an enormous impact on the Mets, the shifts that result likely to be felt in everything from the club’s public perception to its daily lineup,” opined Sexton. “For Bonilla is both an engaging personality—his charisma can infect a clubhouse, his unaffected self-confidence can defuse the pressures of performance—and an intriguing offensive force.”
Bonilla had a 16-year career, playing with eight teams:
- White Sox
His career stats, though not in the Cooperstown sphere, are formidable:
- .279 batting average
- 2,010 hits
- 408 doubles
- 287 home runs
- 1,084 runs scored
- 1,173 RBI
Further, he cracked the barriers of a .300 batting average three times and 100 RBI or more four times.
For America, the beginning of July indicates the annual celebration of the country’s independence from Great Britain. An omnipresence of memorabilia colored red, white, and blue envelops us, as do red and green five months hence.
For Roberto Martin Antonio Bonilla, the beginning of July indicates a seven-figure payment from a deferred compensation deal that will conclude in 2015. No windfall, this. It’s simply a creative structuring of salary.
Somewhere, Jack Benny is smiling.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 1, 2016.