In 1991, Bobby Bonilla was coming off a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he batted .302, slugged 18 home runs and 100 RBI, and finished third in National League MVP voting. That season came on the heels of a season in which Bobby Bo batted .280 with 32 home runs and 120 RBI, good for a second place finish in MVP voting.
However, when Bonilla signed with the Mets before the 1992 season to a five-year, $29 million contract, Bonilla could not perform at nearly the level the Mets had hoped. Bonilla batted a measly .249 the following season in leading the Mets to a 72-win season and inspiring Bob Klapisch's book The Worst Team Money Can Buy, which pretty much summarized the Mets of the early 90s.
The true wrath of Bobby Bonilla would only be felt after the Mets brought him back during the 1999 season, apparently forgetting everything that he did to the franchise earlier in the decade. Bonilla batted a whopping .160 that season in limited playing time and was most well-known for playing cards in the clubhouse with Ricky Henderson during a game in which the Mets were eliminated by the Braves in the playoffs.
If it's July 1, that means the #Mets owe Bobby Bonilla $1,193,248.20 today ... and each July 1 through 2035.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) July 2, 2013
During the offseason, Bonilla pulled off his biggest coup yet when he agreed to defer the remaining $5.9 million of his contract at eight percent interest. Starting in 2011, he would begin receiving annual payments of $1,193,248.20 until 2035 (A higher annual salary than current Mets Josh Thole, Bobby Parnell, and Lucas Duda).
The next season, Bonilla improved to 34 home runs and 87 RBI, but hit only .265 and, most importantly, the Mets would only win 59 games that year. During his first three full seasons with the team, the Mets would be a collective 75 games under .500.
Bonilla would be gone by the middle of 1995 season, after the Mets finally unloaded him to the Baltimore Orioles for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa.
At the time, this seemed like a good idea for the Mets, who figured they could free up the $5.9 million for roster improvements, which in fact they did, and brought in players like Mike Hampton and Todd Zeile who would lead the Mets to the 2000 World Series.
However, during those years, the Mets were living the good life. They could just hand Bernie Madoff a check and he would produce a 30 percent return year after year. The Mets essentially figured if they took the $5.9 million they owed Bonilla and handed it to Madoff, the eight percent interest they owed to Bonilla would be paid by the obscene returns they were getting from Madoff.
As we all know, Madoff ended up being a fraud, the Wilpons got sued and the $1.2 million they now owe Bonilla annually is only further inhibiting a franchise that needs a a serious roster makeover.
It turns out that when the Mets thought they were signing a franchise savior in 1992, they really were getting a player who would fail to perform and worse yet, they would still be paying more than forty years later.