Since 2011, MLB fans have had a reason to celebrate on July 1. For those of you familiar with today's festivities, happy Bobby Bonilla Day! In the long history of terrible pro sports contracts, this one has to stand above the fray. Not just for its awful financial conditions, but that it is often attached to the Bernie Madoff scandal and the Mets' ownership being embroiled in a Ponzi scheme.
If you're not familiar, Bobby Bonilla was a baseball All-Star in the 90s, winning a ring with the Marlins in 1997 (yes, the Marlins have as many World Series championships as the Indians, Royals, Mets, Twins, Phillies, and Blue Jays). In 1999, following a disastrous season that ended with Bonilla playing cards during the NLCS, he was released. Because baseball contracts are fully guaranteed, the Mets were on the hook for the last year of his salary ($5.9 million). Instead of a one-time payment, Bonilla's salary was deferred until 2011 with 25 annual payments of $1.19 million every July 1 until 2035, a total of $29.8 million for a $5.9 million season where he never played a game for the Mets. Seriously, his agent deserves a medal. This is unreal.
At the time though, the Mets thought this was a great deal. The ownership had discovered the goose that laid golden eggs in the financial management and investments of Bernie Madoff. The returns from their (major) investments with Madoff were, in their opinion, more than enough to cover the Bonilla agreement. For the Mets, they were going to get so rich off their secret weapon that they couldn't imagine being the laughing stock of MLB and a cautionary tale of making stupid financial decisions. Needless to say, we all know what ended up happening with Madoff.
There are so many lessons to take from this saga. It's a textbook of the consequences of poor decision making, a case study of the impact of fraud, and a "can you imagine if this happened with Twitter today?"
For ministry leaders, we can learn four lessons on the 10th annual Bobby Bonilla Day:
1) Good and Wise Stewardship is a non-negotiable: Jesus addressed the importance of wisdom and stewardship in Luke 14 with the parable of building a tower. His admonition to "count the cost" can be applied to any number of things we deal with in ministry. A building project completely financed can cripple a church's ability to do ministry for a decade. Launching initiatives and starting new ministries without asking hard questions jumbles and crowds out priority. In leadership, we have been entrusted with resources not our own that we will be held to account. We cannot be stupid with God's resources: God's money, God's people, God's time, God's buildings, God's work.
2) Don't Sacrifice Long Gains for Short Wins: The Bonilla deal sounded great in the same way that credit cards do, buy now pay later. Except it always costs more in the long run than it could have in the short term. The Mets will, by 2035, find themselves paying $24 million more than they should have for a player they didn't want. Pastors sacrifice long gains for short wins when we try to be people pleasers, we fail to audit ministries for effectiveness, or when we patch over major issues with band aids.
3) Moving Too Slowly Costs More than Moving Too Quickly: A lot of times we move too slowly in the church because we're afraid of ruffling feathers or causing too much stir or that it's going to hurt to make a decision that isn't going to be popular. I don't believe these are, most of the time, motivated by fear. I believe we genuinely want to do the right thing, and want to err on the side of grace, and want to be better than what we think someone "deserves." But every time we kick the can, the accrued costs add up. The puppet ministry that does nothing? Every time you delay in moving on, it's going to be worse when you do it. The incompetent staff member you make excuses for? Eventually it's going to be a bigger headache than you could imagine. The rotting trailer or church van that you keep thinking you'll use, it's going to one day cost more to fix than it could ever be worth when your insurance company gets a call. Make the hard call. Pull the band aid.
4) Don't Hide From Your Mistakes: To the Mets' credit, they've honored the terms of the deal and have faithfully sent the check every year. They've not tried to get out of it. They've got the same ownership group and they've not hidden from their mistake. Sometimes guys, we're going to do make the wrong decision. Nowhere in Scripture are we promised to be free from mistakes. We're going to make them. But we can't hide from them. Own up to them. Take the lumps. I'm sure Fred Wilpon every June 30th goes to bed getting himself ready for the jokes the next morning. But that's the price of leadership.
So Happy Bobby Bonilla Day everyone!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.