The New York Mets decided to test the free-agent waters before the 1992 season. The Mets whose five-year $29 million contract made Bobby Bonilla, eventually won the highest-paid player in baseball history a hectic bidding war.
The deal seemed like a match made in heaven. The rebuilding Mets had added an offensive centerpiece to replace Darryl Strawberry and Bonilla was thrilled to return to his native New York, where his father could watch him play.
At his official Mets introduction, Bonilla told the press, “I know you all are gonna try, but you’re not gonna be able to wipe the smile off my face. I grew up in New York. I know what it’s all about.”
Unfortunately, the marriage of Bonilla and New York wouldn’t survive past the honeymoon — a tenth-inning home run (his second of the game) to defeat the rival Cardinals on Opening Day.
Bonilla never warmed to the role of team leader that the Mets wanted him to play. “I just want to be one of the guys,” the new arrival said, but his huge contract made him a marked man.
Compounding the problem, Bonilla considered himself to be a line-drive hitter, not the slugger the Mets had expected to fill the power void created by the departure of Strawberry.
Although the switch-hitter owned tremendous power from either side of the plate (in July of 1987 he hit just the seventh upper deck home-run in the history of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium), he would often maintain, “home runs are overrated.”
As the Mets stumbled early in the season, New York fans wasted little time loudly registering their disapproval at Shea Stadium. Mired in an awful batting slump, Bonilla bore the brunt of their anger.
In late May he caused a flap by wearing earplugs at the plate to drown out the chorus of boos which greeted him each at bat.
His season hit a low on June 25th when TV cameras caught him calling the press box between innings to complain about an error charged against him.
Red Foley, who was scoring that game, refused to take his call, and now, on the rules posted in each big-league clubhouse, it says the official scorer will not take calls from uniformed personnel during a game.
Bonilla dug himself a deeper hole and aggravated already tense media relations by shamelessly denying that he was protesting the official scorer’s decision. Instead, he told reporters, he had been calling to inquire after the health of Mets’ PR man Jay Horwitz.
Although Bonilla’s next two years in the Big Apple proved more productive than his disappointing initial season (.249, 19 HR, 70 RBI) he never won the support of Mets’ fans and his trademark smile soon settled into a frown.
On April 10, 1993, when he expressed his displeasure with reporter Bob Klapisch and his book about the Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy. Bonilla threatened and taunted Klapisch in a frightening exchange: “Make your move, ’cause I’ll hurt you . . . I’ll show you the Bronx.” Then he swatted away the microphone of a television crew that recorded the scene. Klapisch called the scene “the most uncomfortable 10 minutes of my professional life.”
In 1993 Bonilla crushed 34 home runs with 87 RBI while batting .265 as the Mets finished in dead last in N.L. East with 59 wins.
Bonilla raised his average to .290 in 1994, during the strike shortened season as the Mets cleared out the free agent mess from 1992, The Worst Team Money Could Buy.
In late July 1995, Bonilla was batting .325 and enjoying his best season in New York when the Mets traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for prospects Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa.
In 1999, the New York Mets reacquired Bonilla from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for stiff reliever Mel Rojas.
In Game 6 of the 1999 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, Bonilla and Rickey Henderson were found in the clubhouse playing cards during the final innings of that game.
The Mets lost in extra innings as the two players showed up and defied manager Bobby Valentine rules.
The New York Mets finally conceded Bobby Bonilla had no future with the team.
The unhappy outfielder, owed $5.9 million in the final season of his contract, was placed on unconditional-release waivers on January 04, 2000, after agreeing to defer his salary for 12 years.
It will compound at an 8 percent annual rate. Bonilla will receive an annual paycheck of $1.19 million starting in 2011 and will last until 2035.
Bobby Bo’s “I Show You a Bronx Card Trick” while playing in Queens.