Bobby Bonilla

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METSellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets: 25 Years Later, McFarland Recalls Bonilla’s Mets Clubhouse Tirade Against Him

June 26, 2019 - 11:58 am
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By Joey Wahler

If anyone knows about being in Tim Healey’s shoes, angrily threatened by a player in the Mets clubhouse, it’s well known, retired WABC-TV reporter Art McFarland, the target of Bobby Bonilla’s infamous rant in 1994.

On the eve of the baseball strike that August, McFarland, a Channel 7 news reporter, was with his cameraman at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, getting Met player reaction about the impending work stoppage. One of the team’s union representatives, John Franco, was very cooperative with him, McFarland says, but the other one, Bonilla, was anything but.

“I approached Bonilla, I think very politely and respectfully,” said McFarland, now 71. “Said, ‘do you have a comment on the strike?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you right now,’ in essence. And I pointed out that I was approaching him because he was the shop steward, so I’m a little surprised that he would say nothing on behalf of his fellow players. So he blew me off.

“And me being a reporter, I asked another question. I said, ‘Why is it that you don’t have a comment, considering what’s at stake?’ Something like that, trying to keep it going. What set him off was, I said, ‘Bobby I looked it up, and I see that you stand to lose more money in the strike than any other baseball player. So how do you feel about that?’ And that’s what got him. That’s what made him go ballistic.”

Caught on-camera, Bonilla orders McFarland from his locker area, repeatedly curses at him, gets in his face and says, “Come on, you make your move,” challenging him multiple times. Despite the 6’3” Bonilla’s face being inches away from McFarland’s, the reporter tells Bonilla, “Doing my job,” remaining calm throughout.

“The money thing set him off and he threatened me and got in my face,” McFarland said. “And I was able to maintain my composure. It was just a threat. He wasn’t going to do anything, I guess with all those cameras rolling.

“I was a big boy, and I didn’t take it personally, and I certainly wasn’t going to challenge him. But it seems to me in a position like that, whether you’re a player or not, you have a responsibility to be an adult in dealing with the media. And he just lost that responsibility and acted like a child.”

The incident drew much attention in New York, but McFarland says the aftermath bothered him more than the confrontation.

“I didn’t really care about it, but after it was over I noticed in television interviews and whatever, he allowed it to be treated like some kind of a joke,” McFarland said. “That is what bothered me. That and the fact that the Mets organization turned on me. And the beat writers hammered me for starting and provoking this thing with Bobby Bonilla.

“And I’m not even a sports reporter. I was just being a journalist, and that’s what journalists do. They try to get answers to their questions. Sometimes they’re abrasive, which I in that situation was not.”

As for McFarland’s take on Sunday’s beef in Chicago when Mickey Callaway cursed at Healey and Jason Vargas threatened to knock him out, “I guess that all these reports that he’s going to get fired soon are getting to him,” McFarland said of the Mets manager. “That’s New York. He got New Yorked. He’s probably been carrying that around for days or weeks, and whatever triggered him I’m sure originates with that.

“And Vargas obviously showed his solidarity for his manager. And those reports are working on some players as well. Especially players that aren’t used to being in New York. Yeah, that’s a human thing, that’s a human reaction. But the Mets should have learned a lesson from the situation with me and Bonilla to have headed this off every single year.”

The Mets should regularly caution their players and manager to bite their tongues with the media, McFarland says.

“They, and every single sports team, should have a seminar every single season to remind the players that they would be ill advised to let reporters and their questions get to them and make them emotional,” McFarland said.

In an email, Mets spokesman Harold Kaufman said, “We do annual media training.”

After retiring from TV reporting nearly five years ago, McFarland is pursuing his original dream of becoming an actor and writer, working on scripts and screenplays and having performed small roles on some major productions.

“I recently did a bit part that I’m really proud of on Law & Order SVU,” McFarland said.

Appearing in an upcoming movie starring Lucy Hale, “I played a minister for about ten seconds,” McFarland quipped. “And there’s an interesting series that’s coming out on Amazon starring Al Pacino, which I have an even smaller part in. It’s about Nazi hunters in New York in the 1960s.”

The irony of McFarland’s stare down with Bobby Bo?

“In fact, it’s well known at the shop over there (Channel 7) that I’m a Mets fan,” McFarland said.