On July 20, 1988, the Yankees traded Jay Buhner to the Mariners in exchange for Ken Phelps. It was a deal made especially famous by a later Seinfeld episode, but at the time, Mariners manager Jim Snyder just said: “He’ll go right into right field tomorrow night. From what I can see, he can play center or right, and we need the help in right. I’ve got a guy in center (another former Yankee, Henry Cotto) who can run the ball down and is playing decently. I think a group of Cotto, Buhner and Mickey Brantley in left will be a strong one.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the kid. He’ll hit third. We’ll move Mickey (Brantley) from third to second to keep his speed near the top of the order.”
Ken Phelps said: “I don’t know what it is with Seattle. It just isn’t the same as it was last year. I don’t know if it is chemistry, or not having the confidence in ability, or expecting to lose.
“But it should be different. The talent is here, better than a lot of clubs in this league. You go to spring training after you made some deals, signed some guys and you expect to improve eight or 10 wins. Instead, we’ve gone eight or 10 games the other way.
“It confuses the Mariner players most of all, I think. And things can change in a hurry, through trades or guys clicking together.
“I’d love to see things change here and I’d like to be a part of it, but one way out of it is to trade older guys like me (34 in August) for younger guys.”
The Mariners’ Scott Bradley said about Buhner: “From what I hear from the guys I know in the Yankee organization, Buhner can do it all. He’s got a tremendous amount of pride in what he does. I know the Yankees love him.”
Mariners General Manager Dick Balderson said: “This kid, right now, is one of the top five prospects in our league. He is a player. He needs to play. There are no guarantees, but he has a chance to be very good. If you don’t take a risk on quality players, you don’t get quality players. I can see Mickey [Brantley] in left, Griffey in center and Buhner in right.”
Years later, Buhner said about his Seinfeld mention:
That probably made me more famous than my antics on the field. Probably one of the greatest shows ever. Ever. My only regret was that I never got the chance to make a cameo. They were talking about, talking about us going on, and the way our schedule was set up, it just didn’t work out. A buddy of mine called me on the phone and said, “Dude. You were just mentioned on Seinfield.” And I was like “What?” And I didn’t actually see that until a year later because we were out playing. I actually get more questions about that than anything else!
Jerry Stiller, Ken Phelps and myself– we were on XM radio and we did a 30-minute deal where we talked about how it was one of the most talked about shows ever. It was awesome to hear Jerry talk about it, the behind the scenes. They didn’t really talk about sports on the show and for them to break the mold and do it was really cool.
You can read more about the Buhner trade at my 1995 Mariners site here, especially in the comments area.