An exciting ballplayer who could crush the ball with the best of them, Buhner was more than just a one-trick pony. The clean-shaven (his scalp at least) Buhner was also an elite outfielder with a cannon-like arm who led his peers in assists twice and fielding percentage four times. Although Jay was never among the league leaders in batting average, he always posted solid on-base percentages and slugging averages. Referenced in an episode of Seinfeld, shortly after George Steinbrenner informs Mister and Misses Costanza that their son is dead, Mr. Costanza accosts The Boss, saying, “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for!?”
Originally drafted by the Pirates in 1984, the Yankees acquired Buhner while he was still in the bushes with Yogi Berra’s son Dale for slugger Steve Kemp and Tim “Crazy Horse” Foli. But the Bronx Bombers didn’t hold on to Jay long. They gave him his first Major League trial with a late season callup in 1987 but the following year they traded him to Seattle for all-or-nothing masher Ken Phelps. The trade quickly became one of the most lopsided in baseball history. Phelps was done shortly thereafter and Buhner became a star in Seattle.
Buhner showed flashes of his future stardom in 1989 and ’90 but didn’t become an everyday player until 1991. In his first taste of everyday duty, Jay blasted 27 homeruns. He led AL right fielders in assists and would duplicate the feat in 1992 before teams learned not to test his rifle arm. In 1993, Jay drew 100 walks which boosted his on-base percentage up to .379. He came within two RBI shy of 100 and due to the player’s strike in 1994, he was only able to accumulate 21 homeruns and 68 RBI. But once all was settled, Buhner became one of the game’s top offensive forces.
Beginning in 1995, Jay would post three consecutive seasons of 40 HR and 100+ RBI. With the Mariners in 1995, Buhner had the odd statistic of driving in 121 runs on just 123 base hits. He posted a career high .566 slugging average that year and finished second in homeruns and third in RBI. Seattle made it to the postseason and Jay was a dynamo. In the Division Series, he hit .458 against the Yankees and he followed that up by clubbing three homers against the Indians in the ALCS. Despite the terrific talent Seattle boasted, headed by Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Buhner, they failed to reach the World Series. The Mariners would make the postseason four times while Jay was on their roster but never did reach the Fall Classic.
Buhner followed up his breakout year in 1995 with an even better year in ’96. That year Buhner won a Gold Glove, was named to the All-Star team and set career highs with 44 homeruns, 138 RBI and 107 runs scored. He finished third in assists among right fielders. He showed more of the same talent in 1997 when he posted his third straight 40 homerun season and set a career high with 119 walks. But Jay, would had hit .271 in 1996, watched as his batting average fell to .243 in ’97. He would never again hit above .255 in any given season.
Health became a concern for Buhner after the 1997 season. He was limited to just 72 games in 1998 and he mustered a .222 batting average with another injury-plagued season in 1999. In 2000, Buhner appeared in over 100 games for the final time in his career as he bashed 26 homeruns in his last full season. He appeared in 19 games for the Mariners in 2001 before calling it a career.
G 1,472/R 798/H 1,273/2B 233/3B 19/HR 310/RBI 965/SB 6/BB 792/SO 1,406/BA .254/OBP .359/SA .494