What is the Mendoza Line?

In baseball, the Mendoza Line is generally accepted to mean a batting average of .200.

Mario Mendoza was a light hitting, slick fielding shortshop from Chihuahua, Mexico, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers over the course of a nine year big league career.  His prowess with the glove garnered him the smooth-sounding (and mildly effeminate) nickname “Hands of Silk,” which sounds much cooler in Spanish—Manos De Seda (if he would have come along a few years later, he would have been the ideal cross-cultural spokesperson for Palmolive); unfortunately, his offense was so inept a teammate once declared that “his bat jumped off the ball.”  Mendoza failed to reach .200 in five of his nine seasons and finished his career with a .215 average.

According to legend, in 1979 as Mendoza hovered around .200, one of his Seattle teammates (Tom Paciorek or Bruce Bochte, depending on who you ask) first coined the phrase “The Mendoza Line” to poke fun at his offensive struggles.  At some point, George Brett heard the phrase and in 1980 Brett responded to a question about batting averages by stating “the first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who’s below the Mendoza Line.”  ESPN’s Chris Berman picked up the expression and after using/abusing it repeatedly on SportsCenter during the 1980s, a new phrase to denote a minimum level of acceptable performance was born.

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