M’s Right Field

Jul 24, 2012, 2:15 PM | Updated: 2:15 pm

By Gary Hill

It was entirely fitting that Jay Buhner was the one to throw out the first pitch at Safeco Field on the night that Ichiro sprinted to right as a New York Yankee for the first time. It was Yankees after all who touched off a cycle of position stability rarely seen in Major League Baseball.

On July 21, 1988 the Yankees shipped Buhner to the M’s for First Baseman/ DH Ken Phelps. At 33 years of age Phelps had put together a solid season before the trading deadline. He hit .284 and swatted 14 HR and drove in 32. However, the likeable Phelps would flounder down the stretch and the Yankees would trade him the very next season to the Oakland A’s. Meanwhile Buhner flourished into an All-Star who bashed over 40 homers in a season 3 times. He spent parts of 14 seasons with Seattle hitting 310 homers and helping the club to the playoffs in 1995, 1997 and 2001. His rocket arm, hard-nosed play, bald head and pine-tar patch helped make him a beloved figure to the Seattle Mariner faithful. He made right field his home in Seattle. At the time he retired Buhner had played 1352 games in right which was 885 more than the next highest total (Al Cowens 467 games). On October 6, 2001 against the Texas Rangers Buhner started for the only time in right field that year and it turned out to be the very last time of his career. He had transitioned into a role player late in the 2001 season while Ichiro had burst onto the scene by capturing the AL MVP Award and the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Ichiro played 152 games in right while leading the league in hits (242), steals (56) and batting average (.350). He was named an AL All-Star 10 times and is at the tops of Mariners career marks in hits, runs, triples and at-bats. He played in 1844 games as a Mariner amassing 7862 at bats from 2001 until yesterday. He spent the vast majority of his time in right field- 1538 games. The year 2001 marked a seamless pass of the baton from one Mariner legend to another.

The Buhner/Ichiro Era in right field lasted from 1991-2012 and they combined to play 2,890 games at the position. What Seattle Mariner fans have witnessed over the last 21 season has rarely been accomplished in Major League history. As it turns out it is very rare history. The following is a list of teammates who provided a chain at one position where they both played over 1,200 games:

Baltimore Orioles- SS
1968-1996
Cal Ripken Jr- 2302 games
Mark Belanger- 1898

*Boston Red Sox- Left Field
1940-1972
Carl Yastrzemski- 1913 games
Ted Williams- 1984

New York Yankees- First Base
1915-1938
Lou Gehrig- 2137 games
Wally Pipp- 1468

Seattle Mariners- Right Field
1991-2012
Ichiro- 1538 games
Jay Buhner- 1352

*It should be noted that Ted Williams missed the 1943-45 seasons and parts of 1952-53 due to military service. It should also be noted that Carl Yastrzemski played more games in CF in 1964 just as Ichiro did in 2007. Both players returned to their positions of note and remained with the team for a number of years. I struggled with the idea of leaving Boston LF on the list, but I decided to do so. Technically they may not fit the criteria, but they certainly fulfill the spirit of the point I am making. Plus if any baseball fan from Boston was asked in 1944 to identify the Red Sox LF….. Ted Williams would have been the answer.

The Mariners Right Field duo is in select company and yesterday marked the end of a long and special era.

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M’s Right Field