Saturday, June 11, 2011
What is The Mendoza Line?
On Thursday, Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees went 2-4. It was said he had finally pushed his batting average over the "Mendoza Line." That's a term I've heard many times watching baseball over the last 20 years or so, but it occurred to me that some of you newer or younger fans might not know what it means. Also, it's kind of a funny story. So, what is the Mendoza Line? Sit back and relax, and I'll explain.
It all comes back to the man in the picture above. Is he a child molester? Is he Edward James Olmos? No! In fact, he is Mario Mendoza, a major league infielder from 1974-1982. Originally from Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico (city, state, country for those of you who aren't geography majors), Mario was signed as a international free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970. He eventually was traded to the Seattle Mariners, and ended his career with two seasons on the Texas Rangers. Back in the day, middle infielders were generally known more for their gloves than their bats, and Mario was no exception. In fact, Mario was most famous for his ineptitude at the plate.
Throughout his career, Mario struggled to hit even .200. He always seemed to be just below it, or just barely above it. His career averages, year by year, were .221, .180, .185, .198, .218, .198, .245, .231 and .118. I think the point is made, Mario could not hit. Lot's of players can't hit though. Most of them just don't spend nine seasons playing Major League baseball. I never saw Mario play, because he retired the year I was born, but he must have been something else on defense. Short of being able to catch and throw the ball with his anus, I don't know what could have possibly kept him in the lineup for that long (admit it, you're picturing that now).
There are two theorized explanations as to where the term really came from, but both are related to poor Mario. The first, and least famous one, involves the fact that Mario weighed 187 lbs while he played for the Pirates, and that he literally couldn't hit his own weight. He was often under that .187 batting average, and so hitting under your own weight was called the Mendoza line. Similar things were said about Mendoza by some of his Mariners teammates later in his career.
The traditional Mendoza Line sits at the .200 mark and, Oddly enough, one of the best hitters of the era is to blame for coining the term. In 1980, the great George Brett (HOF with 3,154 career hits) was trying to be the first man to hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941 (more on Teddy Ballgame here). During an interview that season, Brett allegedly said "The first thing I look for in the papers is who is below the Mendoza line." ESPN anchor Chris Berman heard about this and began using the term on television, which made it stick.
The moral of the story is, George Brett is a bit of a jerk. You're hitting .400, the guy can't even hit .200. He's not even your teammate. Leave him alone. Now Poor Mario Mendoza is still linked to crappy hitting, and he's been out of the game for almost 30 years! He will live on in the sport for ever, which is kind of cool for him I suppose. I'm sure he wishes it was for other reasons, but hey; all PR is good PR, as they say.
Anyway, now you know what the Mendoza Line is. Feel free to drop it into conversation at parties, around the water cooler or even at family gatherings. You will look like you know what you're talking about when it comes to sports, and your family, friends and co-workers will love and respect you that much more.
image courtesy of: http://im4.ebidst.com/upload_big/9/5/5/1284944100-29187-0.jpg