Buhner retires, accepts position in M’s organization

  • Wednesday, December 19, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Jay Buhner started crying before his retirement news conference began Wednesday, and he’s not even leaving the team.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” the outfielder told a few dozen Mariners employees who gave him an ovation in a Safeco Field hallway.

Buhner, a career .254 hitter who spent 14 of his 15 seasons with the Mariners, said he will spend the next few years in an undetermined role with the team.

After thanking the employees who greeted him, a wet-eyed Buhner entered the news conference to the tune of his theme song, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” He watched a television monitor replay his 300th home run, then choked up when he tried to speak.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong took over, saying that Buhner earned fans’ respect by playing hard and giving back to the community.

When he pulled himself together, Buhner, 37, said his body could no longer take the punishment of professional baseball.

“I think I will toot my own horn: I did leave it on the field, and that’s the reason I have to retire,” Buhner said. “I’m beat and I’m battered, but I’m a realist and I realize there’s no greater time for me to go out.”

A fan favorite with a reputation for clubhouse antics, Buhner played in only 19 games during the Mariners 116-win season this year because of a bad left foot.

He finished his career with 310 home runs and 965 RBI. After hitting 49 homers in 1995, 44 in ‘96 and 40 in ‘97, he was hampered the next two seasons by injuries. He underwent knee and elbow surgery in ‘98 and strained a hamstring in ‘99. In 2000, he hit 26 home runs and drove in 82 runs in 112 games.

He is scheduled to have surgery today to remove a bone spur from his collarbone.

Buhner said helping the Mariners win their first AL West championship in 1995 was his greatest thrill.

“He’s a well-balanced person,” said teammate Edgar Martinez, who joined the Mariners in 1987, a year before Buhner. “He’s a joker, the guy who makes everybody laugh, and he’s a great player. That’s what I’m going to miss in the clubhouse.”

Martinez said he learned one bad habit from Buhner: chewing tobacco. But he said he also learned a lot of good things: giving back to the community, being positive, doing what was right in any situation.

Buhner and his family have devoted much time to charities, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Association, Toys for Tots and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He said he was always amazed at what athletes can accomplish by lending their name and their time.

He said he has no specific plans for his retirement, except for spending more time with his family and doing a little fishing in Montana. As for his future role with the team, he doesn’t know if he has the patience to be a coach – too much “babysitting.”

But he does want to stay with the Mariners.

“It’s the only thing I know,” he said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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