Happy Bobby Bonilla Day, the ultimate free roll!
Bobby Bonilla was an above-average professional baseball player from 1986 through 2001, known for his charismatic smile. He played his last game as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals on October 7, 2001 (that’s 6,111 days ago).
He entered the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, committing 67 errors in two seasons as their starting third baseman before moving to right field. Is Major League Baseball thus any different from the league I played in as a 9-year-old, where right field was typically a pasture for kids who couldn’t even catch a cold?
After four seasons in Pittsburgh, he signed as a free agent with the Mets, who made him the highest paid player in all of baseball. They later traded Bonilla to the Baltimore Orioles for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa. Soon a free agent again, this time he signed with the Florida Marlins, who traded him (along with Gary Sheffield and three other players) to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. The Dodgers shipped Bonilla back to the Mets for relief pitcher Mel Rojas.
An important trivia note about Mel Rojas is that he once pitched an “immaculate inning” against the Mets. This occurs when a pitcher strikes out the first three batters in an inning on nine consecutive pitches, something only 85 pitchers in MLB history have accomplished.
During the 1999 NLCS Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, Bonilla was caught on camera playing cards with a teammate in the clubhouse while his team was losing the elimination game in 11 innings. Impressed by that, the Braves picked him up for the following season, where he hit five home runs in 114 games. The always competitive St. Louis Cardinals signed him for the 2001 season, and he rewarded them with five more home runs, then retired.
Bonilla had a career batting average of .279, over 2,000 hits, 287 home runs, was a six-time All-Star and won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997. Definitely better than average. That was then.
This is now. Thanks to a contract he renegotiated in connection with his release by the New York Mets after the card-playing-in-the-clubhouse incident, that team has been paying Bonilla $1.19 million every July 1 since 2011, and these annual payments will continue through 2035. A longer version of how and why Bonilla and the Mets agreed to convert a contract buyout into deferred payments through Bonilla’s 72nd birthday (teaser: Bernie Madoff is part of the story) can be found here.
It’s good to be Bobby.
Now where would any self-respecting poker player be with $1.19 million in freeroll money every July 1? Any suggestions?
By the way, I did some extra credit research and Bobby Bonilla Day isn’t the only wacky thing celebrated on July 1. Did you know today is also Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day and International Chicken Wing Day? Can you dig some jalapeño cheddar buffalo wings ice cream?
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