Jay Buhner was a very solid baseball player. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the 1984 MLB draft, Buhner was traded to the New York Yankees on Dec. 20, 1984. A promising prospect with power, Buhner played two seasons in the big leagues with New York before being traded to the Seattle Mariners, where he spent the final 14 seasons of his career. Nobody took that trade any harder than the fictional Frank Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller, on the famed television sitcom Seinfeld. Stiller passed away Sunday at the age of 92.
Jay Buhner’s Major League Baseball career
Jay Buhner played a total of 15 seasons in the big leagues, most notably with the Seattle Mariners. He was a power-hitting outfielder who made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 11, 1987 with the New York Yankees. He played just parts of two seasons with the Yankees, appearing in 32 games. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners on July 21, 1988 in a package deal for veteran Ken Phelps.
Buhner blossomed with the Mariners. He had three consecutive seasons with 40 or more home runs and finished his career with 310. Buhner finished his career with a .254 batting average. He drove in 965 runs during his career and he finished with 1,273 hits in 1,472 games.
Buhner’s best season came in 1996. The right-handed slugger smacked 44 home runs and drove in 138 runs, both career highs. He was a Major League Baseball All-Star for the first and only time in his career. The previous season, Buhner collected 40 home runs and drove in 121 runs in just 126 games. He finished fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting that year.
Buhner mentioned in iconic ‘Seinfeld’ episode
In an episode from Season 7 of Seinfeld, the fictional version of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner came over to the house of Frank Constanza, played by Jerry Stiller. Costanza was the father of George Costanza, who was an assistant to the Yankees’ traveling secretary on the show. Steinbrenner came over to tell Frank Constanza and his wife that their son went on a vacation and was presumed dead.
While Steinbrenner was explaining the situation regarding his son, Frank Costanza, in classic Seinfeld fashion, seemingly ignored the fact his son supposedly died and blew up at the Yankees owner. “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
Steinbrenner fired back and didn’t accept the blame. He said he was dealing a prospect for a veteran with a proven bat. “Well, Buhner was a good prospect, no question about it,” he said. “But my baseball people loved Ken Phelps’ bat. They kept saying ‘Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps.’”
Buhner’s reaction to the episode
In a 2015 interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald, Jay Buhner said he still hears about the episode and he’s very happy to be associated with Seinfeld. He said he just wished he made an appearance. “It’s funny, here in Washington it was on a couple of nights ago,” he said. “Pretty soon some of my buddies started texting me, ‘Why’d you trade Jay Buhner?’ … It was flattering to be part of such an iconic show. My only regret is that I didn’t make a cameo.”
Buhner was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame in 2004 and the team reportedly played the Seinfeld clip during the ceremony. Since he retired from the sport, Buhner has served as a minority owner and TV spokesman for NorthWest Motorsports, a growing truck dealership in the Seattle area.
Although he spent 14 years playing for the Seattle Mariners, Buhner said in that interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald that he might be more known for trucks than baseball. “Sometimes I think more people know me as the ‘Trucks, trucks and more trucks!’ guy than for playing baseball,” Buhner said then. Today, he might be better known as the Seinfeld guy.