The Mendoza Line is an expression in baseball deriving from the name of shortstop Mario Mendoza, whose poor batting average is taken to define the threshold of incompetent hitting. The cutoff point is most often said to be .200 (Mendoza's career average was slightly better than that, at .215) and, when a position player's batting average falls below that level, the player is said to be "below the Mendoza Line". This is often thought of as the offensive threshold below which a player's presence on a Major League Baseball team cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. The term does not apply to pitchers, who are not expected to be effective hitters.
The term has come to be used in other contexts when one is so incompetent in one key skill that other skills cannot compensate for that deficiency.
Origin of the term
Mendoza, an effective defensive player from Chihuahua, Mexico, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers and usually struggled at the plate. Mendoza was known as a sub-.200 hitter whose average frequently fell into the .180 to .199 range during any particular year—four times in the five years from 1975 to 1979.
The "Mendoza Line" was created as a clubhouse joke among baseball players in 1979, when from early May onwards, Mendoza's average was always within a few points of .200 either way, finishing out the season at .198 for the year (and .201 for his career to that point). "My teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte used it to make fun of me," Mendoza said in 2010. "Then they were giving George Brett a hard time because he had a slow start that year, so they told him, 'Hey, man, you're going to sink down below the Mendoza Line if you're not careful.' And then Brett mentioned it to Chris Berman from ESPN, and eventually it spread and became a part of the game." Berman deflects credit back to Brett in popularizing the term. "Mario Mendoza?—it's all George Brett," Berman said. "We used it all the time in those 1980s SportsCenters. It was just a humorous way to describe how someone was hitting."
Mendoza had two more full years in the majors, with a handful of plate appearances in 1982; his hitting improved noticeably in that stretch, so that by the end of his career, his batting average had risen to .215. By that point, however, the phrase was already embedded in baseball culture. Mendoza proved to be a prolific hitter after going back to his home country to play in the Mexican League; his career batting average in the Mexican League was .291, and in 2000 he was inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.
The term is also used outside of baseball to describe the line dividing mediocrity from badness:
- On an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney explains the "Vicky Mendoza Diagonal" line, which determines how attractive a girl must be in order for him to date her depending on how "crazy" she is.
- In the episode Moving Target of Beverly Hills, 90210, Brandon and Steve's professor says "And look, if you've done the reading you don't have to worry, you will not fall below the Mendoza Line for a grade of a C." to which a student asks "Umm, the Mendoza Line? Was that in the chapters?".
- "A sub-$2,000 per theater average... is the Mendoza Line of box office numbers..."
- "Republican pollster Neil Newhouse... argues that these numbers have crossed below the political 'Mendoza line'..."
- "The U.S. 10-year note yield declined below 2%... before moving back above the Mendoza Line... to 2.09% by early afternoon."
- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's play has been described as "The Dalton Line": the minimum level of production and efficiency you should expect from a franchise quarterback in the National Football League.
On the other hand, in recent years as batting average against has come to be a closely followed pitching statistic, the Mendoza line has increasingly come into focus with respect to measuring the effectiveness of the game's elite pitchers. Needless to say, pitching below the Mendoza line (assuming a pitcher has faced the minimum number of batters) over at least a season is considered a great achievement, and typically accomplished by only a handful of pitchers in Major League Baseball over the course of a season.
Another expression used in baseball to indicate that a hitter is not being effective is "on the interstate", which derives from batting averages in the .1xx range looking similar to the route designations of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, in which roads are referred to using "I" to indicate an Interstate Highway, and a number to indicate the specific route. Thus a batting average of .195 looks roughly similar to "I-95", and the batter is said to be "on the Interstate."
- "Mendoza line" on Baseball-reference.com
- Seminara, Dave (July 6, 2010). "Branded for life with 'The Mendoza Line'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- "Mario Mendoza" on Baseball-reference.com
- Lasser, John (October 22, 2007). "'How I Met Your Mother': Crossing the line". Zap2It. Archived from the original on March 1, 2014. Retrieved February 23, 2014.
- The Numbers - Even Horror Films Can't Survive the October of Terrors
- Murray, Mark (June 13, 2007). "Republicans abandoning Bush". NBC News. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Forsyth, Randall (August 18, 2011). "Fear Sends 10-Yr Treasury Under the Mendoza Line". Barron's. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- "Hitting on the Interstate" at Baseball-reference.com