Rich’s Reminiscences: Bobby Bonilla

For those members of the COMC Nation who are not familiar with me, my name is Rich Klein and my current role in the hobby is that of a catalog maintenance expert for COMC. In performing this job, I see cool cards, many of which I have never seen before, and sometimes they trigger a thought about how interesting a card or a set really is. I’ve been in this hobby since the late 1970’s and set up at my first show at Montclair State College in New Jersey in 1979. Since then I’ve done just about everything in this business, and in terms or writing I’ve published had Rich’s Ramblings for Sports Collectors Daily for several years, and currently write a monthly column for GTS. These posts, as noted, will be about specific cards and/or sets, and we would prefer these posts be based on your suggestions rather than just what I think is interesting. I always credit our users and contributors and am grateful for anything you might send our way.

Now that was a long-winded way of saying: Welcome! This column was triggered by a card I saw yesterday while doing basic catalog work. The card which triggered this was a 1983 TCMA minor league card of Roberto Bonilla. We, of course, know him today as Bobby Bonilla, and every July 1st is lovingly known as Bobby Bonilla day because he receives more than one million dollars on said date each year. However, 35 years ago, he was just a young kid from the Bronx and we used his full name…

Bobby was such a prospect that when the Pirates lost him to the White Sox in the 1985 Rule 5 Amateur Draft, they traded one of their best pitching prospects midway through the 1986 season to bring him back to Pittsburgh. There he teamed up with fellow 1986 rookie Barry Bonds to lead the Pirates back to the playoffs after being dormant throughout the 1980’s. Those late 1980’s-early 1990’s Pirate teams were always knocking on the door but never quite made the World Series. Not that Bonilla had anything to do with this play, but this Sid Bream slide showed just how close the Pirates would come to the promised land:

By that point, Bonilla was already a member of the Mets, and the Pirates dismantling had just begun. Bonilla would bounce around a bit for the rest of his career but would still be an important player for the rest of the decade. In 1994, on the eve of the baseball strike, He offered to show a New York media personality the Bronx he grew up in. There was another incident as well which is still well know in the New York area:

But there were happier moments as well: If you watch the highlights of Cal Ripken Jr.‘s famed trot around the field after playing in his 2131st consecutive game, Bonilla is one of the players pushing him out of the dugout so he can enjoy the moment, and then two scant years later, Bonilla was a starter for the 1997 World Champions Florida Marlins. That is an honor his good friend, Barry Bonds was never able to enjoy. As his career wound down, the Mets asked to defer his salary at eight percent interest and pay him over a 25 year period between 2011 and 2035. So, this young kid from the Bronx who we originally knew as Roberto Bonilla, we now know today as Bobby Bonilla, patron saint of bad contracts. Quite a ride over those 35 years indeed.

I would love to hear your comments and your suggestions for future blog post subjects. Reach me by email with your thoughts at RichKlein@comc.com.

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