Who says no?
Bobby Bonilla might have one of the best agents in MLB history. When the Mets released Bonilla after a disappointing 1999 season, he was still owed $5.9 million, and they didn’t want their fourth highest-paid player in 2000 to be a guy who wasn’t even on the team. So Bonilla and his agent came up with an idea to help the Mets out. They’d defer the $5.9 million payment until 2011, with an 8% interest rate, and have the team pay down the balance in annual installments of $1.19 million until 2035, a total of $29.8 million. The Wilpon family, which owned the Mets at the time, thought it sounded like a great deal. They figured they’d be able to afford the 8% interest because they’d invested heavily in a hedge fund that promised returns in excess of 10%, run by a guy named Bernie Madoff.
When Madoff’s scheme collapsed, the Mets started pinching pennies but their obligation to Bonilla remained unchanged. Every year, on July 1, Bonilla gets a check from the Mets worth $1.19 million. With the MLB minimum salary around $560,000, Bonilla is paid more than twice what some key Mets players earn every year.
As the Mets cried poverty and refused to pursue high-priced free agents year after year, the Bonilla contract became a sore subject for fans. Even worse, the payment schedule meant it would predictably be a topic of conversation every year in the heart of the baseball season.
But the Mets have a new owner, Steve Cohen, whose obscene net worth of $14.6 billion makes him by far MLB’s richest owner. A guy who once spent $141.3 million on a statue doesn’t care about a measly $1.19 million.
Cohen is willing to have a little fun with the Bonilla situation. Replying to a fan on Twitter, Cohen suggested turning “Bobby Bonilla Day” into an actual ballpark event. He could get an oversized novelty check like a lottery winner and take a lap around the stadium.
This is a tremendous idea. The previous Mets regime was plagued by a combination of joylessness and incompetence that made the team’s whole vibe kind of a bummer. Bonilla’s annual payments were only embarrassing because Mets ownership was stingy enough to make $1.19 million a consequential amount of money. That’s what you pay a back-end reliever! By celebrating the Bonilla payments, you remove the stigma associated with them and reinforce that these aren’t the same old Mets.
Cohen has only owned the Mets for a few weeks now, but his approach to ownership has already started to come into focus. He’s made his intention to spend money very clear and has been active on Twitter, mixing it up with fans and answering questions both humorously and seriously. He’s got more money than anyone would ever know what to do with, so he bought a baseball team to have some fun. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the typical alligator-armed MLB owner.
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