retired as a player, the Mendoza Line has been appropriated by an indie rock
band from Athens, Ga., and invoked by Brandon on Beverly Hills, 90210 in
reference to marginal grades. It has also spread to pro football, where NFL
wags sometimes refer to the Kordoza Line, after Kordell Stewart's career passer
rating of approximately 70, another minimally acceptable mark. The phrase is
widely known even in Mendoza's native land, where ESPN Deportes baseball
personalities make routine use of it.
Mendoza did get
back at Paciorek, occasionally subjecting him to practical jokes like novelty
exploding cigarettes or a faceful of cake. And in his own way, Mendoza also got
back at Brett. In late September 1980, with Brett trying to surmount the
Williams Line of .400, the Royals star came into a three-game series with
Seattle, hitting .394. Brett went 2 for 11, largely because Mendoza robbed him
of three hits on plays up the middle. Brett finished the year at .390.
The Mendoza line
rings. It's his eldest son, 28-year-old Mario Jr. "I was once let go by
major league baseball," father tells son. "How hard can this
Mario Jr. can
relate. Once a pitching prospect with the Anaheim Angels, he shared several
spring trainings with his dad, who managed him at Class A Lake Elsinore in
2000. But that season, young Mario suffered a stress fracture in a vertebra,
causing major league clubs to lose interest in him, and he now pitches for
Saltillo of the Mexican League.
Mendoza's return to Mexico as a player took place after two seasons with the
Rangers and one in the minors. In spring training in 1981 manager Don Zimmer
told him, "Hey, Mex, you hit .220, and I'll be satisfied." He batted
.250 over the first two months of the season, and in mid-June the Rangers
lurked just a few games behind the A's in the AL West. Then the strike hit,
wiping out two months of the season. After play resumed, Texas faded and so did
Mendoza, who finished at .231. The Rangers released him early the next season.
Failing to hook on with the Pirates in spring training in '83, Mendoza joined
the Triple A Hawaii Islanders as a player-coach for a season, then returned to
Mexico for the remainder of his playing career. Since turning 45, he has
collected a major league pension. But by failing to squeeze one more season out
of the bigs he is just short of qualifying for the maximum amount.
The Mendoza line
rings. It's Roque Sanchez, Campeche's first baseman. "We failed you,"
he says, speaking on behalf of his fellow Piratas. "I'd always dreamed of
playing for a manager just like you."
Mendoza's style is
light-tempered. "It keeps guys, especially young guys, relaxed," he
explains. Indeed, his embrace of conviviality helped launch his managerial
career. On the Pirates' visits to San Diego, Mendoza enjoyed clowning with the
grounds crew. "I'd tug at the hose when they watered the third base
side," he says, "or roll balls out of the dugout at them." One of
those groundskeepers was a college kid named Bill Bavasi, son of Padres
president Buzzie Bavasi. By the early '90s, when Mendoza's Mexican League
career was winding down, the younger Bavasi had moved into the Angels' front
office. He figured the shortstop who related so easily to all types would make
a good manager in the minors, where Latinos in particular can thrive or flail
depending on their support system.
In '92, Mendoza
began managing at Class A Palm Springs. He spent 10 seasons in the Angels'
system, then one more with the Giants. Since 2003 he has been the Mexican Dave
Bristol, managing four teams including, until a few hours ago, Campeche.
offered to keep him on as a roving instructor, but already there have been
feelers from another Mexican League club. Mendoza holds a ticket for an
early-morning trip home to Navojoa, 40 miles from the Sea of Cortez, where he
and Irma Beatriz like to invite neighbors over for evenings of cerveza and
conversation in the "bleachers," the steps that lead to the door of
their home. (In addition to Mario Jr., the couple have two other children, Irma
Maria, 25, and Manolo, 17.) If a job offer comes, he'll rearrange his
Mendoza has packed
his bags. He holes up in a cantina, watching on TV as Higuera leads Campeche to
a victory over Leones de Yucat�n. His cellphone lies on the table before him.
The Mendoza line is open.