Bobby Bonilla received $1.19 million on Monday from the New York Mets, a team he hasn’t played for since 1999. And the Mets will continue to pay him that much annually until 2035, thanks to infamous Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and a baseball contract that now can only be seen as legendary.
Nearly 20 years ago, Mets owners were heavily invested in Madoff’s criminal enterprise. Betting on handsome future returns, the team entered into a deferred payment arrangement with the underperforming slugger that now are costing them dearly. For Bonilla, it’s proving to be one of the best retirement plans in baseball history.
In the baseball world, July 1 is Bobby Bonilla Day — the day when the former Major League Baseball player receives his check from the Mets. The annual $1.19 million payment is part of a deferred payment plan agreed to after Bonilla’s lackluster 1999 season.
The Mets let Bonilla go before the 2000 season, but still owed him $5.9 million on his contract. Rather than cough up all the money that year, the Mets agreed to pay him $1.19 million every year from 2011 through 2035 — totaling nearly $30 million.
At the time fans and baseball insiders alike wondered why Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon was so willing to agree to such a generous deferred payment arrangement.
Mets Still Paying Bonilla … and Madoff Victims
At the time, Wilpon had a lot of money invested with Bernie Madoff. Madoff guaranteed double-digit investment returns. So Wilpon thought he could make at least percent a year on Bonilla’s owed $5.9 million — theoretically coming out ahead by the time the contract was paid off. Instead, Wilpon got screwed when Bernie Madoff’s investment fund turned out to be a scam.
In 2008, Bernie Madoff’s now infamous Ponzi scheme was exposed. There were no investments or returns. He was just paying off old investors with the money he could collect from new investors. When the stock market collapsed in 2008, however, there were no new investors and the scheme fell apart.
Fred Wilpon wasn’t alone. Reputable banks, charities and celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon and John Malkovich, lost money in the Madoff fraud. But Wilpon lost twice.
Not only did Wilpon lose the money he had invested with Madoff at the time of the scheme’s collapse. But also Wilpon is still paying back money he and Mets’ owner Saul Katz had previously received from Madoff, with interest.
Wilpon and Katz paid $16 million to the Madoff victims fund in 2016. Starting in 2017, they had to start making four annual payments in excess of $10 million a year.
Bonilla’s Double-Dipping Retirement Plan
A 2007 study conducted by the University of Colorado at Boulder determined that the average career for a Major League Baseball player is 5.6 years. At every point in his career, an MLB player has an 11 percent chance of ending his career. Not every player scores a 10-year $300 million contract like Manny Machado. That’s why it’s so important for players to focus on how to support themselves post-career. For that, Bobby Bonilla is a perfect role model.
More than half the Mets’ current roster make less than Bonilla’s $1.19 million. But the Mets pay Bonilla even more than that. The Mets also agreed to pick up part of the Baltimore Orioles deferred payment obligation to Bonilla. Bonilla started collecting $500,000-plus a year from the Orioles in 2004. That payment plan runs through 2029.