Monday, May 21, 2007

Tatonka's Favorite Mariners Series #4: Jay Buhner


It’s hard to quantify Jay Buhner. Oh, sure, he accomplished some significant statistical milestones as the right fielder of the Mariners in the 1980s and 90s. He launched 310 HR (all but three with Seattle), drove in 965 runs, and posted a .359 On Base Percentage for his career. All while possessing one of the finest RF arms in the game.

But Bone was all about personality. He was balding, he was funny, and he was by all accounts a true force in the clubhouse. He was able to puke on demand, and apparently used this talent when newer players were on the training table receiving treatment. He was a true locker room cutup, but also a fiery team leader. At one point in 1995 (September 9th to be exact), the Mariners took over the wild card lead and the team re-organized the AL pennants in order of wild card standings, rather than divisional ones. This lasted all of one night as a furious Bone insisted they be put back. He wanted the team to focus on winning the division. As we all remember, the Mariners won their division that year and finished a game BEHIND the Yankees for the wild card. But all of these stories pale in comparison to Buhner’s lasting legacy as a Mariner, being the inspiration for one of the great marketing schemes of all time—Buhner Buzz Cut Night.

Somewhere I have photographic evidence of the personal impact of the first such event. When it was announced, all of us responded with such phrases as “that’s cool,” and “We’ve gotta go.” In the end, everyone else chickened out, and Brian came to the inaugural Buzz Cut Night to witness me and some 500 other fans have our heads shaved outside the Kingdome on the 19th of May, 1994. In exchange for lopping off our hair, we got free tickets above the rightfield wall to cheer on our beloved Bone. A few years later, Tad, who had shaved his head for other reasons, did participate in the event, getting a high-five from Bone as he waited in line. Because Bone didn’t merely lend his name to the event. He actually shaved a few heads himself every year and spent hours outside talking to and encouraging the participants.

Two stories come out of my experience. First of all, I had fairly long locks at that point--past shoulder length--and although my hair wasn’t the longest that got buzzed, I did lose a lot of hair all at once. My appearance was so transformed that when I got home and saw my infant daughter, she was terrified of me, and wouldn’t let me hold her for a good couple of days.

But it was worth it. We got an exciting ballgame against the visiting Rangers. Seattle was down 4-0 by the top of the third, but then clawed back with a run in the third and two more in the fifth against Kevin Brown. Still down 4-3 in the ninth, we had the top of the order up, so even one baserunner would guarantee that Buhner, hitting fourth, would get to come to the plate. Two quick outs ensued, but then Cris Carpenter walked both Griffey and Buhner, and was relieved by Matt Whiteside. Game over—Mariners win 5-4 on a Mike (Rickey) Blowers walk-off walk.

Yeah! That victory put the M’s only 2 ½ back of the AL West-leading Rangers, with three more to play in the Dome that weekend against them.

This sequence of events led to my second story regarding Buzz Cut Night. You know that baseball players are superstitious…well, I figured that my presence with shaved head in the right field seats made a difference in the outcome, so I went back the next night. And the next. And the next. I saw that entire four-game series, always in the bleachers above the 23-foot wall in right. And we swept Texas!

Indeed, we put a hurting on the Rangers; that second night saw a 19-2 destruction of Texas, giving the Big Unit the win. I was there, and so was Bone, who went 4-for-4 with a double and 3 RBI. Another rout ensued on Saturday, as Buhner hit a HR to lead the M’s to a 13-2 victory. Finally, a “close” 8-2 game on Sunday saw young Roger Salkeld (remember him?) defeat the venerable Bruce Hurst. That game put Seattle in first place, half a game up on both the California Angels and the Texas Rangers. Whoo hoo!

If you’re a baseball fan, you have to like Jay Buhner. And if you’re a Seattle fan, he also represents one of the greatest trades in club history…Buhner came to Seattle from the Yankees in exchange for Digger, er, Kenny Phelps. We loved Phelps, to be sure, but any way you tally it up, this trade was a steal for the M’s. Phelps would play a little over a year for the Yankees before they flipped him to Oakland for the immortal Scott Holcomb. Phelps hit a total of 17 HR for the Bombers in that time. Of course the trade was immortalized on Seinfeld, when Frank Costanza, on being told by George Steinbrenner that his son might be dead, blurted out “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for!!??”

So, sure, Bone was a great ballplayer. He had those three peak seasons just at the right time to contribute to the rise of the Mariners as a contender. 1995-7 saw him crush 40+ HR each season, and he got MVP votes in all three seasons.

But more importantly, he’s one of the best reasons to love the M’s, and he’s fourth on our list of Tatonka’s Favorite Mariners.


At 6:09 AM, Blogger andrew.hooks said...

Jay Buhner will be a guest on The Bob Rivers Show April 19th at 7:00am PT. Tune in to 102.5 KZOK Seattle or log on for the live streaming audio/video of the interview!


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