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Mets: Finding the few good years of Bobby Bonilla in New York

19 Apr 1999: Bobby Bonilla #25 of the New York Mets looks on during the game against the Montreal Expos at the Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Expos defeated the Mets 4-2.
19 Apr 1999: Bobby Bonilla #25 of the New York Mets looks on during the game against the Montreal Expos at the Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Expos defeated the Mets 4-2.
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Bobby Bonilla is a New York Mets legend. Unfortunately, it’s because of his unusual contract situation. At least he did give them a few good years before it all went awry.

Before there was Bobby Bonilla Day, the six-time All-Star was actually a pretty good baseball player. In fact, some of those quality years even took place as a member of the New York Mets.

In 2018, we think of Bonilla as the guy who fixed the system. Every year on July 1, the Mets pay him $1.19 million. For a guy who hasn’t played for the Mets since 1999 and has been out of baseball since 2001, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

I won’t go into details about how the front office fudged this one. Instead, let’s look at what he actually did on the field.

Before the misery of the 1999 season where he hit .160/.277/.303, Bonilla spent three and a half years with the Blue and Orange. After multiple All-Star seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1990s, free agency called Bonilla’s name. He signed with the Mets in December 1991.

His first season in New York didn’t produce the statistics fans hoped. Bonilla hit .249/.348/.432 with 19 home runs and 70 RBI. The first impression was not very good.

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The sophomore season was much better. Bonilla made it back to the All-Star Game. His 34 home runs set a career-high which he never surpassed. In addition to that, a batting line of .256/.352/.522 began to win fans over.

Bonilla played well again in the strike-shortened 1994 season and again in 1995. It was in his fourth season with the team when they traded him to the Baltimore Orioles. At the time of the deal, Bonilla had 18 home runs in 80 games. He was hitting well over .300 and about to have one of his best seasons in years.

Bonilla’s overall numbers with New York included a .270/.356/.495 batting line in 2040 plate appearances. He smashed 95 home runs in that time while quietly planning his escape a few years later.

Unfortunately, these good years in Flushing are forgotten in history. We remember the paycheck he gets every July 1st instead. Those good at-bats from his first stint with the team are lost in a dusty warehouse somewhere with the Ark of the Covenant.

The Mets were bad in the early 1990s. Anything he did well for them on the field didn’t really matter. His team struggled to win games.

Bonilla did see limited action in the 1999 postseason. A single in the NLDS represented the lone hit he had in five plate trips to the plate.

Bonilla’s unusual contract will forever overshadow his quality seasons in New York. It’s tough to fault him for it. Who wouldn’t want to collect a huge interest for years after they’ve retired?

Next: Five players you never knew the Mets drafted

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Consider the $29.8 million he will earn post-Mets day as a way to make the rest of the contracts players sign look better.

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