It’s July 1, which means it’s Bobby Bonilla Day.
The former Major League outfielder who now works for the players union will receive his deposit of $1.2 million from the New York Mets. It’s the 11th of 25 payments that will extend annually to 2035.
When the Mets traded Bonilla to the Baltimore Orioles midway through the 1995 season, they owed him $5.9 million.
Dennis Gilbert, Bonilla’s agent at the time, devised the deferred payment plan at an 8% interest rate that compounds each year. Fred Wilpon made the deal, figuring he’d fund it with dividends coming from a hedge fund he invested in run by Bernie Madoff, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.
Steve Cohen inherited the arrangement when he bought the team from the Wilpons this past October for $2.42 billion. Bonilla collected his first dividends from the plan in 2011. Cohen is making his initial payment Thursday, when the Mets said via twitter they will have “a BIG announcement .”
“You know what tomorrow is,” the club said. Regardless, Bonilla will still get paid.
“I’ve been doing retirement strategies for professional sports athletes since before I was an agent,” Gilbert told Sportico. “I was in the insurance business. Deferred compensation was something we were very interested in doing. That’s just the story. The way it worked out was really wonderful.”
When Madoff went bust and went to jail, Wilpon wasn’t protected. Because of Gilbert, Bonilla was protected. He’s scheduled to earn precisely $1,193,248.20 from the Mets each year until he’s 72 years old.
To put that into perspective, the Mets are paying young star first baseman Pete Alonso in his third season this year, $676,775, because of his years of experience.
“I would say I’m extremely proud of this deal,” Gilbert said. “Let’s put it this way: we didn’t think we were taking any risk deferring the money.”
Gilbert has a long and diverse history within professional baseball. He was a player, scout and head of the Scout’s Association. He had a deep background in insurance and financial planning long before becoming an agent and founded the still prestigious Beverley Hills Sports Council. He’s now a consultant to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
Gilbert was also the agent for Bonilla after the 1991 season when the then-free agent left the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign a five-year, $29 million contract with the Mets. The $5.5 million annual average made him the top-paid player in all of sports at the time.
A year later, Gilbert topped that by representing free agent Barry Bonds for his six-year, $43 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
While Bonds set the single season and career home run records of 73 and 762, respectively, with the Giants, Bonilla never gained much traction playing for the Mets. He hit .270 with 95 homers and 295 RBIs during his five years with the Mets, split into two stints. And during his early years from 1992 to mid-1995, the Mets didn’t finish higher than third place.
Bonilla did have a 16-year career with eight teams, including a World Series title during a partial 1997 season with the Marlins, and a one-season return to the Mets in 1999 when they went to the playoffs.
In another strange twist of fate, Bonilla earned $5.9 million from the Mets that year.
“Life insurance and retirement strategy has been my business. That’s what I do,” Gilbert said. “Even when I started in the agent business I was very sensitive to taking care of these guys when they come out of the game. Years later they are broke. These guys having to be pitching coaches or third base coaches, minor league managers or scouts because they really didn’t plan. They don’t plan.”
Gilbert helped Bonilla plan. His deferred Mets money kicked in after he left the game and will continue for another 14 years.
Happy Bobby Bonilla Day!