For baseball hitters, flirting with the Mendoza Line is not a good thing. Named after former Major League Baseball player Mario Mendoza, the Mendoza Line is a batting average of .200. Mendoza, however, lasted nine years in the big leagues, his first five with the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite hitting below that dreaded Mendoza Line five times.
Mario Mendoza’s baseball career
Mario Mendoza was known for his defense. An infielder, Mendoza was known for making all the routine plays and making some of the tougher ones look routine. He was playing for the Mexico City Red Devils in the Mexican League in the early 1970s and caught the eye of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates purchased Mendoza’s contract from Mexico City. He played in their farm system for a couple of years before making his big-league debut on April 26, 1974. Mendoza came in to pinch run for Willie Stargell and wound up scoring the tying run in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 victory against the Houston Astros.
Mendoza played five seasons with the Pirates, getting the most plate appearances (163) in that rookie season. He finished with a .221 batting average and 10 runs scored. He spent two seasons with the Seattle Mariners and had a career-high 401 plate appearances in his first season when he hit .198. His final two seasons were with the Texas Rangers.
The Mendoza line was born in Seattle
According to Sports Illustrated, the Mendoza Line came to life after he hooked on with the Seattle Mariners in the 1979 season. Mendoza said it was teammate Tom Paciorek who coined the term, but Paciorek has given credit to first baseman Bruce Bochte. The Mariners were a loose group with a lot of joking going on in the clubhouse.
Paciorek didn’t dispute the fact he shared the term with Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett. “At the beginning of the 1980 season, Brett was struggling and made a comment about being around the Mendoza Line,” Mendoza said. “Once Brett made that remark, (ESPN analyst) Chris Berman picked it up.”
Berman used the term regularly on the hit segment Baseball Tonight. Despite Mendoza’s career batting average of .215, the Mendoza Line is widely considered the .200 mark. Berman’s use of the phrase caught on and Mendoza became an unexpected hit. “That,” Mendoza said, “is all people remember me for.”
Mendoza is in the Hall of Fame
After Mario Mendoza’s second season with the Texas Rangers, he was offered an invitation to spring training by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1983. He failed to make the team and hooked on with the Hawaii Islanders, their AAA club as a player-manager. After one season there, he returned to Mexico as a player-manager.
Back in Mexico, his managerial career lasted one season, but he continued as a slick-fielding player and a much better hitter for the next seven seasons. During those seven seasons, Mendoza finished with a .291 batting average and scored 258 runs.
Mendoza was inducted into the Mexican League Hall of Fame in 2000. Mendoza continued managing after his induction. After he managed the San Francisco Giants’ AA team in 2002, Mendoza went back to Mexico, where he managed until 2013.