I am a reformed Mets fan, but until now I was unaware that July 1st is “Bobby Bonilla Day.”
Apparently, this is the date each year the Metropolitans pay about $1.19 million to the former All-Star, part of their deal made in 2001 to buy out the slugger’s $5.9 million contract. The negotiated settlement, which includes annual payments through 2035, was made by the team’s prior owners, when they couldn’t afford a lump sum and were counting on investments – including Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme – to return large profits.
Despite the fact Bonilla hasn’t played Major League Baseball since October 2001, the now 58-year-old will receive his pound of New York flesh until he’s 73.
Apparently, such deferred buyouts aren’t rare in pro sports, or baseball. But can any reasonable person hear about this without being aghast at the amounts involved? The Mets, for their part, have embraced this “holiday.” Under a new promotion conceived by owner Steven Cohen, who acquired the majority share of the team last year, fans will have the opportunity to book an “Airbnb” overnight stay at Citi Field for $250, including throwing out the first pitch at a game. It’s first come, first served.
Sounds like a good case of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, while glomming up some press. But when I first heard about Bobby Bonilla Day in a radio story, I had to do a mental double-take. This is a big missed opportunity for both the Mets and Bonilla himself.
How great would it be if upon receiving his fat check each July 1st, Bonilla turned it over to a worthwhile charity, in its entirety or just a big percentage? Surely he continues to enjoy a wealthy lifestyle as a result of the team’s prior payments, his Players Association pension, and the appearance and autograph fees all former baseball greats command in their retirement.
Wouldn’t such a gesture turn everyone’s expectations of the highly paid professional athlete on its ear? Fans have become so jaundiced over the years by exorbitant salaries that just keep escalating. An annual donation to a children’s hospital, a charity that encourages young people in sports and life, or a rotating beneficiary, would go a long way toward restoring fans’ faith in professional athletes.
Indeed, Bonilla has been charitable in the past; he and his wife created the Bobby and Millie Bonilla Public School Fund in 1992 and donated $500 for every home run he hit for the Mets. An online search indicates the charity doesn’t exist any longer.
And while most teams without “Yankees” in their name are perpetually strapped for cash, wouldn’t it be wonderful if their cross-town rivals used Bobby Bonilla Day to donate 10 percent on top of their payout each year to a New York-area cause?
Better yet, how about the Mets and Bonilla personally negotiate a new deal 10 years in, in which they each donate 5 percent of the annual payment to a mutually agreed-upon charity, like United Way, The Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or the American Cancer Society? It would be a great PR coup, while truly embracing a day that no doubt sticks in the craws of many.
Now that would give fans something to cheer about.