During Buhner's second season at McLennan the major-college offers came rolling in. David wanted Jay to attend Miami, but Jay chose to be a Longhorn. David exploded when told of this decision, and he and Jay had what they both describe as the worst light of their lives. "I just didn't want him to play for [Texas coach Cliff] Gustafson," says David. "I never liked him or the way he treats his players. I was so mad I think I went up one side of Jay and down the other."
Jay signed a letter of intent to attend Texas, but the Pittsburgh Pirates stepped into the picture, selecting him in the second round of the January 1984 secondary free-agent draft. He signed with the Pirates and restored family harmony. After less than a year in the Pittsburgh organization, Buhner was dealt along with Dale Berra and Alfonso Pulido to the Yankees for Tim Foli and Steve Kemp.
David says that Jay has always been "one of those kids who could fall in a pile of crap and come out wearing a diamond ring," and being traded from Pittsburgh to New York was the baseball equivalent of that, according to Jay. "The Yankees organization was first-class all the way," he says. "The great thing about the Yankees was that every level I played at, we won. Bucky Dent was my manager at every level, and he was awesome. He taught me how to win. Then when I moved up to the big leagues, I was surrounded by veterans who were great to me: Dave Winfield, Jack Clark, Jose Cruz, Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly. I couldn't have asked for a better place to break in."
There were better places for a young player to break into the lineup, however, and Buhner was soon traded to one. In July 1988, New York, desperate for lefthanded power, sent the then 23-year-old Buhner to Seattle for the then 33-year-old DH Ken Phelps. Buhner immediately became a starter for the Mariners. "As a young player you understand that New York is notorious for trading young players," Buhner says. "So I wasn't surprised. I knew Seattle wasn't a very successful organization, but I knew I was going to get a chance to play every day in the big leagues. That's everyone's dream."
Buhner got his chance to play, but the losing atmosphere in Seattle was often more than he could take. He had some solid seasons—he is one of nine players who have hit 20 or more homers in each of the past five years—but his talent was less apparent than his temper. Seattle fans wondered if Buhner was going to be another monumental flop, like ex-Seahawk Brian Bosworth. "I just think it was a matter of growing up for Jay," says catcher Dave Valle, Buhner's friend and former Mariners teammate who now plays for the Texas Rangers. "His first couple of years in Seattle he had no confidence, and he had a bad temper. He was not an easy player to handle."
Bonehead the hothead. Once, while playing golf with Mariners teammates a few years ago, Buhner was not content to fling a club in disgust, so he tried to fling his whole bag. When he couldn't unstrap the bag from the motorized cart right away, he did the next logical thing. He flipped the whole cart. "It's something we've worked on with him a lot over the years," says David. "And I think anyone will tell you that he's come a long way."
One of the last great eruptions of Mount Buhner came one day during the 1990 season when Jim Lefebvre, Seattle's manager at the time, pulled Buhner for a pinch hitter. "Jay took a bat and went [into the tunnel] behind the dugout and started smashing the wall just in back of where Lefebvre was sitting," says Valle. "So Jimmy gets up and goes around the corner to confront him, but Jay is just in a fit of rage. He had the craziest look in his eye, and we were afraid what he might do. So [DH] Alvin Davis and I jumped up and grabbed Jay and dragged him into the locker room. His temper got him in trouble a lot in those days. He's just got a fire in his belly, and I think he's learned to use it in a more positive way."
Buhner has another renowned habit, but he would be hard-pressed to use it in a positive way. What he likes to do is...throw up. On cue. For kicks. Sometimes he does it to try to nauseate some poor rookie. "I call it 'blurping,' " Buhner says. "It's a combination of burping and vomiting. It's a great hidden talent."
"It's disgusting," says Leah. "He only does it because he knows it bugs me."
While it may not fill Mom and Dad with pride, it at least proves that Buhner is not one of those contrived flakes who are hoping to land an invitation from Letterman. Blurping goes beyond the pale of Stupid Human Tricks. During a game last season Buhner blurped in the dugout and forced manager Lou Piniella, who has a notoriously weak stomach, to dash up the runway to the trainer's room and throw up.