Buhner is often joined on his backwoods excursions by his teammate, neighbor and close friend, Griffey. Sleepless in Seattle was actually the story of the Mariners' owners when they found out what their number 3 and 4 hitters do for kicks.
"You ought to see Junior ride a quad," says Buhner. "It's just like everything else he does: so effortless. We go way up into the hills, and we just get lost out there. Last time it was all muddy, and when we got back, we were just covered from head to toe. You couldn't tell which one was me and which one was Junior."
The first time David Buhner saw his son and Griffey tearing up the trails, he asked the obvious question: Is this really worth the risk? "I'm thinking, How much are you two worth, $50 million? Don't you remember what happened to Ron Gant?" he says, referring to the slugger who broke his leg in a dirt-bike accident right after signing a $5.5 million contract with the Atlanta Braves in 1994 and was released soon thereafter. "They don't listen. There is nothing too crazy for those two to try."
Buhner and Griffey have played side by side in Seattle for seven seasons, but it still seems as if the theme from The Odd Couple should be played in the background whenever they're together. "He likes country, I like rap," says Griffey. "He's intimidating-looking, I'm always smiling. I can ride a quad, and, well, he tries."
Buhner is as broad and rawboned as a mule, with an awkward stance and a mechanical swing. Griffey is as lean and hard as a lamppost, with a swing as sweet and smooth as tiramisu. Griffey looks like a runway model. Buhner looks like a death row inmate. Griffey has been photographed for GQ. Buhner and his bass gear are better suited for Field & Stream.
Griffey would trade his throwing arm for one day away from the autograph guerrillas. Buhner makes Jerry Jones look like a shut-in. "We're so much not alike that you'd think we wouldn't have anything to talk about," Buhner says of himself and Griffey. "But we talk about everything. We golf, we fish, we ride the quads, we hang out. Our wives are friends. Junior just built a big house on a golf course in Orlando, and he doesn't know it yet, but his guesthouse is going to be named after me." The Bonehead Guest Cottage?
Griffey has no objections. "I need someone to beat in golf," he says.
Griffey's affection for his teammate became a source of controversy last winter when the Mariners were prepared to let Buhner jump to the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent. Griffey went to management and made himself very clear: He goes, I go. The front office took Griffey's threat seriously enough to pay Buhner—who has not made the American League All-Star team in his nine big league seasons—more than $5 million a year. Griffey kept his part of the bargain in January when he re-upped with the Mariners, signing a four-year, $34 million contract extension.
"Do I know how to pick my friends or what?" says Buhner. He also knows how to make them look good. Griffey, the Mariners' centerfielder, can't come up with his own numbers from last season as quickly as he can throw Buhner's at you. "I've had 42 leftfielders in the time I've had Jay in right," says Griffey, who is preparing for his eighth season in Seattle. "In my opinion he's underrated. He hit 40 home runs, he drove in 121 runs, and he's the best rightfielder in the American League. People said he was overpaid. Well, name one player we could have signed who would have done the job Jay did. There's no one. Jay's as important to our team as anyone, maybe more important than anyone."
Buhner says he doesn't care about MVP awards or All-Star berths (he has the most career home runs, 169, among active players never selected for the All-Star Game), but he does covet one honor that has eluded him, perhaps unjustly: a Gold Glove. In each of the past eight seasons, the three American League outfield awards have gone to centerfielders. Griffey has won a Gold Glove six times, including last season, when he missed 73 games. Yet Buhner has an arm that can shoot down small planes—one of the strongest guns in the game—and he made only two errors last season. He thinks it's time the best rightfielder is recognized, just the way the best fielder at each infield position is. "They don't pick three shortstops in the infield," he says. "Why three centerfielders? It makes no sense. I don't want to be a big star. That's for guys like Junior and Randy. But I take a lot of pride in my defense, and I just want to be recognized for what I do."