|Third baseman / Right fielder|
February 23, 1963 |
Bronx, New York
|April 9, 1986, for the Chicago White Sox|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 7, 2001, for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Runs batted in||1,173|
|Career highlights and awards|
Through his 16 years in professional baseball, Bonilla accumulated a .279 batting average, with a .358 OBP and a .472 slugging. He was also part of the Florida Marlins team that won the 1997 World Series. Bonilla also led the league in extra base hits (78) during the 1990 MLB season and doubles (44) during the 1991 MLB season. He also participated in six All-Star Games and won three Silver Slugger Awards.
From 1992 to 1994, Bonilla was the highest-paid player in the league, earning more than $6 million per year. Since 2011, Bonilla has been paid approximately $1.19 million by the New York Mets each year. The 25 payments come every July 1, which some fans refer to "Bobby Bonilla Day". This was part of a deal made when the Mets released Bonilla before the 2000 season while still owing him $5.9 million for the final year of his contract. The deal expires in 2035, at which point Bonilla will have been paid $29.8 million for a season in which he did not even play for the Mets.
Bonilla played baseball at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx and graduated in 1981. He was not selected in the 1981 Major League Baseball draft and spent a semester at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York studying computers. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates after being spotted by scout Syd Thrift at a baseball camp in Europe.
His rise through the Pirates' farm system came to a halt during spring training in 1985 when he broke his right leg in a collision with teammate Bip Roberts. The Chicago White Sox then acquired him through the Rule 5 draft during the 1985-86 offseason, and Bonilla made his major league debut with the White Sox at the start of the 1986 season. Syd Thrift, then the Pirates' General Manager, reacquired the unhappy Bonilla in exchange for pitcher José DeLeón later that year. Bonilla also played from 1984 to 1988 with the Mayagüez Indians of the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Bonilla became the Pirates' starting third baseman in 1987, but after committing 67 errors over his next two seasons, manager Jim Leyland moved him to right field. There he formed a formidable combination alongside stars Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke and helped propel the Pittsburgh Pirates to two of their three straight NL East titles from 1990 to 1992.
From 1986 to 1991, Bonilla had a .284 batting average, with 868 hits, 191 doubles, 114 home runs, and 500 runs batted in (RBIs). He led the league in extra base hits in 1990, and in doubles in 1991. Bonilla also made the All-Star team 4 years in a row. On October 28, 1991, he became a free agent.
Bonilla became the highest-paid player in the league at the time when he signed a 5-year, $29 million contract ($50.6 million today) with the New York Mets on December 2, 1991. However, Bonilla's offensive production diminished somewhat, finishing with a .278 batting average, 91 home runs, and 277 runs batted in during his three-and-a-half-year tenure with the Mets. Despite this, Bonilla ended up participating in two more All-Star Games (1993 and 1995).
Bonilla's time with the Mets was most noted for his contentious relationship with the New York baseball media. In his introductory press conference after signing with the ballclub, he challenged them by stating, "I know you all are gonna try, but you're not gonna be able to wipe the smile off my face." A number of incidents soon followed, such as threatening sportswriter Bob Klapisch that he would "show him the Bronx" in response to his book on the 1992 Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse Of The New York Mets (ISBN 978-0803278226). On another occasion, he called the press box during a game to complain about an error that he was charged with.
Bonilla was acquired along with a player to be named later (Jimmy Williams on August 16) by the Baltimore Orioles from the Mets in exchange for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa on July 28, 1995, and helped the Orioles to the American League Championship Series in 1996.
Following the 1996 season, Bonilla was once again granted free agency and signed with the Florida Marlins, reuniting with his old manager, Jim Leyland, where he helped the Marlins win the 1997 World Series. He returned with the Marlins for the 1998 season and batted .278 through 18 games.
On May 14, 1998, Bonilla was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with Manuel Barrios, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield, in exchange for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. Bonilla spent the rest of the 1998 season with the Dodgers, batting .237, with 7 home runs and 30 runs batted in.
In November 1998, the New York Mets reacquired Bonilla from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Mel Rojas. Again, his level of play did not measure up to expectations and he had numerous clashes with manager Bobby Valentine over lack of playing time. His tenure in New York culminated in an infamous incident during Game Six of the 1999 NLCS where the Mets were eliminated by the Braves in an eleven inning game while Bonilla reportedly sat in the clubhouse playing cards with teammate Rickey Henderson.
After his subpar 1999 season, the Mets released Bonilla, but still owed him $5.9 million. Bonilla and his agent offered the Mets a deal: Bonilla would defer payment for a decade, and the Mets would pay him an annual paycheck of $1.19 million starting in 2011 and ending in 2035, adding up to a total payout of $29.8 million. Mets owner Fred Wilpon accepted the deal mostly because he was heavily invested with Ponzi scheme operator Bernie Madoff, and the 10 percent returns he thought he was getting on his investments with Madoff outweighed the 8 percent interest the Mets would be paying on Bonilla's initial $5.9 million. As a result, the payout was a subject of inquiry during the Madoff investment scandal.
Bonilla signed with the Braves in 2000 and played a mostly uneventful 114 games for them. He did achieve his highest batting average (.255) since the 1997 season, although he hit only 5 home runs, a far cry from his career high of 34.
In 2001, he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, but injuries reduced his playing time. He played his final game on October 7, 2001 and finished the season with a .213 average, 37 hits, 5 home runs, and 21 runs batted in. He officially retired after the season finished citing "injuries and reduced playing time" as the main reason for his decision.
Overall, Bobby Bonilla finished his career with one championship, six All-Star appearances, and career statistics of 2,010 hits, 287 home runs, 1,173 runs batted in, and a career .279 batting average.
In February 1992, Bonilla and his wife Millie started the Bobby and Millie Bonilla Public School Fund with $35,000. The fund will benefit different schools attended by Bonilla and his wife, by contributing $500 for every run the slugger batted in for the Mets. Bonilla has also participated in other charity events, like the Players Trust All-Star Golf Tournament, organized by Dave Winfield and Joe Mauer in 2014.