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It is line in batting which acts as a cutoff point for the batters. Any player whose average performance falls anywhere below the line is normally termed to be below the Mendoza Line’.
How it started
The expression was first used as a clubhouse joke by the United States baseball players in 1979 due to the consistent poor performance of their teammate, Mario Mendoza. It is currently used to imply that a player’s hit is actually below the threshold of the game.
Mendoza had been a reliable defensive player for his side during his days as a batter for Pittsburgh pirates, Texas Rangers and even at Seattle Mariners. However, he often found it very rough and was always considered struggling whenever he was at the plate. He had a dismal hitting range of 180 to 199 which is considered very low for baseball since the basic cutoff is normally 200.
Over a long period of time the expression was taken by most players as offensive though they later on accepted it as a just another funny way of giving a description on how a player hit the ball at a given occasion.
For slagging players, they were often humorously warned to either work hard or find themselves hitting below the Mendoza Line’. It was later on used all over in the 1980s SportsCenters and eventually became part of the game.
For Mendoza, he ensured he finished his career which had lasted for nine seasons with an average of 215, which is obviously above the said line but that couldn’t change a thing since the name had by then taken roots in the world of baseball.
First talked of by Mario’s teammates, Bruce Bonchte and Tom Paciorek in 1979 and overheard and used in an interview by George Brett in 1980, the term has been currently universally accepted and used as a name for the .200 mark in the game.
When used by Brett in a public interview aired on TV in 1980, he had targeted his opponents by warning them not to under perform since for him, he had a target of hitting an average of .400 and didn’t like the idea of playing against the likes of Mendoza who could barely get to .200. He had not known that he was selling a cliché to the sports world and that the language of the game could be changed by his remarks. However, his mentioning of Mendoza in the talk by associating the player to such failure was not offensive at all for he often commended the later for his excellent defensive play. He confessed that Mendoza had occasionally denied him so many sure hits.
Other uses of the term
Having been created in the sports context, the Mendoza Line has not been restricted to baseball. The expression has a general implication of a below-average performance in other aspects of life such as academics, politics and even music. In line to this, it was used in the 2016 nominations of the Republican Party by the controversial American politician Nate Silver to refer to a set of politicians who could not effectively communicate during debates.
It has also been deployed in art as evident in various movies such as in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ series where one of the characters, Barnley, uses the term to refer to a threshold that must be met by ladies so as to qualify to be an ‘attractive lady’.
‘On the Interstate’ is a modern expression used in baseball that also implies ineffective hitting. This is derived from the Interstate Highway System in the US though unlike Mendoza Line, it seems far fetched and requires more than sports knowledge to comprehend.
All in all, the Mendoza Line is an expression common among baseballers and general sports enthusiasts.It has taken root and found use in almost all areas of life,including politics and popular culture.