From Jim Baumbach -
Ken Phelps, for the record, was a fan of “Seinfeld” before his name came up in that hilarious conversation between Frank Costanza and the fictional George Steinbrenner.
But the second the Steinbrenner character uttered his name on television before one of the largest primetime audiences in sitcom history, Phelps’ lore changed forever.
“I’ve been remembered more from that episode,” Phelps said the other day, “than anything I did professionally.
However, before the episode “The Caddy” aired on Jan. 26, 1996, Phelps was merely a footnote in Yankees history for having been acquired in 1988 for prospect Jay Buhner.
Steinbrenner, believing that George Costanza was dead, went to his parents home to deliver the news himself.
Estelle Costanza was understandably distraught, but Frank Costanza took the opportunity to ask Steinbrenner a question many Yankees fans have wanted to ask. “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?!” he said. “He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing!”
The Steinbrenner character didn’t flinch, and his response included a mention of Phelps that has been recited time and again by Seinfeld fans – and perhaps Yankees fans, too.
“Well, Buhner was a good prospect, no question about it,” Steinbrenner said. “But my baseball people loved Ken Phelps’ bat. They kept saying ‘Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!’”
Phelps actually is on television a lot these days, beyond syndicated episodes of Seinfeld. For the last two years he has done postgame work for Diamondbacks telecasts on Fox Sports Arizona, and he is hoping to make it more of a full-time career. He said he has even reached out to John Filippelli of the YES Network to gauge his interest.
For the sake of history, and humor, maybe Steinbrenner’s network can trade an up-and-coming intern for Phelps. And Steinbrenner can release a statement saying, “My network people loved Ken Phelps’ voice. They kept saying ‘Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!’”
For what it’s worth, personally, I laid the Jay Buhner thing to rest three years ago.
And, for the record, Phelps did hit some taters for the Yankees. From the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia:
NEW YORK YANKEES, CAREER, min. 300 PA
HR/100 PA HR/PA PA 1 Babe Ruth 7.17 9197 2 Alex Rodriguez 6.19 2795 3 Roger Maris 5.84 3475 4 Jason Giambi 5.66 3128 5 Eddie Robinson 5.45 440 6 Mickey Mantle 5.41 9909 7 Reggie Jackson 5.32 2707 8 Johnny Blanchard 5.30 1208 9 Darryl Strawberry 5.26 779 10 Jim Spencer 5.18 869 11 Bobby Bonds 5.11 626 12 Lou Gehrig 5.10 9660 13 Oscar Gamble 5.10 1707 14 David Justice 5.03 756 15 Gary Sheffield 4.98 1525 16 Ken Phelps 4.97 342 17 Dan Pasqua 4.88 860 18 Steve Balboni 4.78 858 19 Joe DiMaggio 4.71 7671 20 Matt Nokes 4.70 1510