The Mendoza Line is one of those sports terms that is of limited usefulness, but has an odd, obscure history that's great fun to talk about. For someone to be below the Mendoza line, your batting average (number of hits divided by number of at-bats) has to be under .200. For those not in the know, this... this is low. Someone who can't consistently hit above this line will not be playing on a major league team every day.

It's unclear who the term is named after. It's very unclear who actually coined the term in the first place. It's utterly baffling as to why this term got to be so well-known.

The generally accepted answer is that the Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza, who was a solid glove in the infield but never really lit a fire in the batter's box. Mendoza finished a 9-year career in the bigs with a career batting average of .215, and career highs of .245, 2 home runs, and 29 RBIs. Not great, but then again, he was a good, error-free glove at the shortstop position, which secured him a permanent place on the team (three teams, in fact; Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Texas). Heck, he finished with a career .961 fielding percentage - damn good for a shortstop. I read that Mendoza is managing a Texas League team right now, but even though I'm in the heart of Texas League country, I couldn't tell you which one. So, this seems like a case of an ol' reliable being remembered for his weaknesses rather than his strengths.

Except that Mario Mendoza played from 1974 to 1982, and some people claim that they saw the term 'Mendoza Line' used in The Sporting News in 1971 or 1972, long before Mario broke on the scene (kind of). The only player named Mendoza to play before that? Christobal (Minnie) Mendoza. Minnie Mendoza was a solid triple-A ballplayer, with one moment in the spotlight : he played 16 games for the Twins, had 16 at-bats, and got 3 hits for a .188 average. Sure, that's not overwhelming, but that's 16 at-bats. What player hasn't had a bad streak before?

The other two Mendozas to play in the big leagues were pitchers. Pitchers aren't asked to do anything except pitch. So that's right out.

Backing up the Mario Mendoza story - most people claim that the Kansas City Royal great, George Brett, casually tossed out that term in an early interview; while there's a multitude of quotes from that interview, all claiming to be the 'God-honest, acutal quote', they all generally say that Brett claimed that he looked to see if either he or other players were batting under the Mendoza Line. And, since this is when Mario Mendoza had played (early 80s), Brett had to mean him.

Again, some people say that The Sporting News, Tommy Lasorda, various minor league sportscasters, or Chris Berman(!) came up with the phrase first, but no one has come out with any good evidence. Then again, there's no good evidence for the Brett interview, but it's as good an explanation as any.

And why did this term become popular? Why you just couldn't call a weak batsman a 'buttercup hitter' or a 'banjo hitter', or that he suffered from 'tapperitis' (thus, he can only tap the ball), or that he 'can't hit a bull in the ass with a shovel'? Well, best as I can tell, 'Mendoza Line' is slick-sounding, catchy, and kind of a baseball in-joke - it's obscure, but you can always count on one person in a given group to understand. Beyond that, I blame a higher power of some sort - 'God's ineffable wisdom' and all that.

All this for a simple term of derision. Ain't baseball grand?

Side note : The Mendoza Line graduated from 'would be an excellent name for a rock band' to 'is the name of a rock band'; a group of sunny kids from Athens, Georgia, playing indie-pop on Kindercore Records.

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