WebScorpion, in a thread about Alex Gonzalez, mentionted that AG had crossed "The Mendoza Line" with his performance in the opening game of the series against the Indians.
Personally, I'm old enough to have seen Mendoza play and I always thought that "The Mendoza Line" was considered something of a BA below .200. But, for fun I 'googled' the term and ran across the following article. I can't vouch for the author's accuracy but it was a fun read.
THE CURIOUS ORIGINS OF THE MENDOZA LINE
by AL PEPPER
The Mario Mendoza Story
According to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the following is the definition of the term "Mendoza line:"
Mendoza line. 1. The figurative boundary in the batting averages between those batters hitting above and below .215. It is named for shortstop Mario Mendoza whose career (1974-1982) batting average for the Pirates, Mariners and Rangers was .215.
2. The figurative boundary in the batting averages between those batters hitting above and below .200. "When a struggling hitter pulls his average above .200, he has crossed the Mendoza Line." (Sports Illustrated, Sept. 13, 1982.) Jim Henneman (Baltimore Sun, June 7, 1994) wrote of Brady Anderson: "A few years ago, when he was struggling to stay above the Mendoza (.200) line, Anderson commanded the same strategy."
ETY Coinage of the term has been credited to George Brett, who has quoted: "The first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who is below the Mendoza line" (Glen Waggoner & Robert Sklars, Rotisserie League Baseball, 1987. But according to Sports Illustrated (Aug. 20, 1990), the term was coined by Tom Paciorek or Bruce Bochte; broadcaster Mel Proctor (Home Team Sports telecast, Apr. 25, 1996) said Mendoza, while playing for Seattle (1979- 80) was hitting above and below .200 and that teammates Paciorek & Bochte commented on that fact in the interview, and later Brett picked up on it and used the term.
Usage Note. This clearly emerging term can have two slightly different meanings (.215 vs. .200),
It's worth our time to get to know the man who owns the most famous line since Mason and Dixon. I vividly remember Mario Mendoza as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a person who grew up as an ardent fan of the Philadelphia Phillies throughout the '70s, the team I hated with all the hate in the world was the cross-state Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only were they a natural rival, they always seemed to take pleasure in drubbing the Phillies until the Phil's finally got good enough (read Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt) to return the favor. My recollection of Mario Mendoza back then was that he was a wonderful defensive shortstop and (at least in the games I saw or heard him play) hit no better or worse than one of my idols, Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa.
Mario (Aizpuru) Mendoza was born in Chihuahua, Mexico on December 26, 1950. The unusually named city (translates as “dry and sandy place”) is about 250 miles south of El Paso and serves as the capital of the largest state in Mexico. Chihuahua was also the birthplace of all-time minor league home run king Hector Espino and renowned actor Anthony Quinn.
Mario Mendoza impressed scouts with his superior range, sure hands, fluid motion, and strong, accurate throws to first. Signed as a 19-year-old free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mendoza quickly showed his defensive prowess. Brian Barsher, who was also a shortstop on the Pirates’ 1971 spring training roster, recalled that Mario Mendoza’s quickness in getting to the ball and quick release in his throw were convincing enough to make Barsher move to catcher.
Mario Mendoza progressed well on his way up to the majors. He led Carolina League shortstops with 79 double plays for Salem in 1972. His high-water mark with the bat came in 1973. While playing Double-A ball at Sherbrooke, Mendoza posted career bests with 8 home runs, a .268 batting average, and 30 stolen bases. He was also named all-star shortstop of the Eastern League.
He joined the Pirates early in the 1974 season and hit .221 for them in 91 games. The Pirates of '74 won the NL East and faced the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), losing 3-games-to-1. In his only post-season action, Mario Mendoza made it into three games and had one RBI single in five at bats. Now isn't that interesting; his lifetime post-season batting average is .200. That's truly smack-dab on the Mendoza Line. But in those playoffs, Mendoza fared better than the following Pirates who had at least 5 at bats: Ed Kirkpatrick (.000), Al Oliver (.143), Dave Parker (.125), Bob Robertson (.000) and Rennie Stennet (.063). Dodgers' ace Don Sutton, with a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings work, pretty much kept most of the Buccos in check..
Mario Mendoza played with Pittsburgh through 1978, mostly in a reserve role to Frank Taveras. A solid and versatile defenseman, Mendoza played second base and third base as well as shortstop. Along the way, there were some interesting moments. In 1976, he hit a final inning double to beat the Houston Astros. Once, in 1977, he even pitched a couple of innings for the Pirates, giving up 3 earned runs in the effort. But what might have been the clincher to forever stay away from the mound was when a line drive struck him on the belt buckle, nearly depantsing him in the process. Mario hit his first Major League home run in 1978 against the San Francisco Giants.
Traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1979, Mendoza finally found himself in a starter's role. He appeared in 148 games as the everyday shortstop and batted .198 that year. This ties him with Steve Jeltz for most games played in a season while batting below .200. He did have some highlights at the plate. His only home run of the year was an inside-the-park shot. Against the New York Yankees on July 11, Mario went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI in a 16-1 Mariners' rout. He even led the team in an offensive statistical category -- sacrifice bunts with 13.
Tom Paciorek, the alleged author of the Mendoza Line, stated that Mendoza was one of the Mariners’ most popular players and was something of a clubhouse wag. Mendoza’s favorite target was the grizzled veteran Willie Horton. Though in his late thirties, Horton played every game at DH for the 1979 Mariners and clouted 29 home run balls. Mendoza was forever giving Horton a hard time on everything from his age to never playing the field. According to Paciorek, Willie Horton used to always say to Mario Mendoza, “Get away from me, you crazy Mexican.” Paciorek, while sitting next to a sleeping Horton on a bus ride, claims that the slugger woke up screaming, “Get away from me, you crazy Mexican.”
Part of an 11-player transaction with Seattle and the Texas Rangers, Mario Mendoza joined the Rangers for the 1981 season. Mario was elated over the trade, telling The Sporting News, “I know there are a lot of Mexican people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and that’s going to motivate me to play better.” Honed by a winter of Mexican League play, Mendoza was extremely sharp at spring training. He proceeded to beat out another shortstop hopeful in Mark Wagner for the starting spot.
During the strike-marred 1981 campaign, he enjoyed a good year for a good team. For a team whose infield defense was traditionally branded as “klutzy,” Mendoza’s consistently slick fielding was a godsend for the Rangers. He was also hitting in the .270s and delivering some clutch RBI. With Mario Mendoza hitting, Texas was surging to first in the AL West. They were just 11/2 games behind Oakland on June 12, when baseball’s longest labor dispute of the time curtailed nearly 40 percent of the season and dashed the Rangers’ hopes of their first title. Mendoza’s batting average also faded and he finished the year at .231.
Mario Mendoza hit under .200 in five of his nine seasons. But on Mario's behalf, in the four years he had over 100 at bats, he batted well over .200 in three of them and would have batted .200 in 1979 if he had just one more hit. In other words, had Mendoza been an everyday player, his career batting average would most likely have been in the Mark Belanger range (.228).
Could he have been a more dominant hitter? It is hard to say. He seemed big enough; at 5'11" and 180 pounds for most of his career, he had the same stature of Hank Aaron. He had decent speed as well. The one thing I do observe about Mario Mendoza is that even in his rookie days, he was wearing glasses, rather thick ones at that. When you hear Ted Williams' claims that his vision was so acute, he could see the stitches of an inbound Bob Feller fastball, perhaps Mario lost a few key milliseconds trying to lock-on to the baseball.
After his major league career, Mario continued to play professional baseball in Mexico, batting .291 during seven seasons in the Mexican Summer League. Mendoza also played 18 years of winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League before, during, and after his career in the “Great Leagues,” as the Mexicans refer to our major leagues. Representing his country in five Caribbean Series tournaments, Mario performed with great intensity and emotion, with Mexico’s national pride at stake. While playing in the Mexican Leagues during the mid-1980s, Mario Mendoza was the league’s equivalent of Derek Jeter. As Mario Mendoza’s son recalled during an interview, his father was nicknamed “Elegante.” Women appeared in droves at games, as much for Mendoza’s good looks as his grace in the field. They compared him to a ballet dancer. He even had groupies. In 2000, Mario Mendoza received the ultimate honor of immortale by his countrymen. He was elected into the Mexican League Hall of Fame (Hall FAMA), the “South of the Border” equivalent to Cooperstown.
After his playing days, Mario Mendoza remained active in professional baseball. He has scouted in Mexico as well as managing in the California Angels' minor league system from 1992 to 2000. Mendoza managed as high as the AA-level while with Midland of the Texas League; five times he has led teams he has managed into the playoffs. His most recent assignment was manager for the Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League. He had the opportunity to manage his son, Mario Mendoza, Jr., a promising minor league pitcher. His career managerial record, as of the completion of the 2000 season, is 579–662.
Fans who have seen Mario Mendoza in the minors describe him as one of the friendliest people in baseball. He actually comes over and talks to fans before ballgames. However, the one thing about the Mendoza Line is that you don't want to use the term around Mario. While Mario Mendoza was managing the Angels' farm team in Palm Springs in the early '90s, someone wrote about him going after a fan who was making light of his hitting. As Mendoza pointed out at the time, he was a highly regarded hitter in Mexico (batted .291 in 660 games over seven seasons as a Mexican Leaguer).
In another episode, while Mario Mendoza was managing the Cedar Rapids (IA) Kernels of the Midwest League in 1997, a player from the opposing Lansing Lugnuts hit one deep that went above the wall in right field and came back. The right fielder claimed the ball tipped off his glove and he caught it on the way down for an out. The radio announcers thought it bounced off the fence and should have been ruled it a double. However, the umpires called it a home run. In a rare display of fury, Mario Mendoza rushed out of the dugout and argued the call vehemently at Darwin Schiltz, the bases ump. After Mario kicked and threw dirt at the myopic arbiter, a la Billy Martin, Schiltz ejected Mendoza.
In the final analysis, Mario Mendoza batting statistics may not support the claim that he was an asset to a team. But consider this. In his five years with Pittsburgh, the Pirates were a division champion twice and division runner-up three times. Prior to Mario's trade to Seattle in 1979, the Mariners finished 56-104; with Mendoza as the everyday shortstop, the Mariners improved to 67-95 and out of the AL West cellar. When he arrived in Texas for the '81 season, the Rangers were coming off a sub-par year; Mendoza takes over as shortstop and Texas finishes in second place, just 5 games behind Oakland. I don't think this is total coincidence; I do think sure-handed infielders are an important building block to a successful team. He is truly Pittsburgh's original "SUPER MARIO"
MENDOZAMANIA: ESSENTIAL MENDOZA LINE TRIVIA
George Brett once resided below the notorious line of his making. In his rookie campaign of 1973, Brett batted just .125 in 40 at bats.
George Brett's older brother, Ken, pitched in the Majors for 14 years and had a decent 83-85 record. Ken Brett may have been one of the best hitting pitchers ever. He batted .262 with 10 home runs. Only once did his seasonal batting average go below .200. Ironically, Ken was a teammate of Mario Mendoza while with the Pirates.
A rock duo from Athens, GA, goes by the name of "The Mendoza Line." While John Lennon and Paul McCartney are the Ruth and Gehrig in the songwriting business, Mendoza Line artists Timothy Bracy and Peter Hoffman bang out hits over the airwaves of college radio stations.
The term "Mendoza Line" made it to prime-time TV when incorporated into the script of Beverly Hills 90210. Brandon Walsh used it in reference to passing school grades.
I've edited this article because it's very long. For anyone that would like to read it in it's entirety, it's here: http://members.tripod.com/~alpepper/mendozaline.html