Saturday, October 06, 2007

Give That Man A Guitar: Mario Mendoza and a Humble Indie Rock Band by Tim Hinely

I’m not sure if I heard of the band name first or the phrase, “The Mendoza Line.” If it was, however, the band name, then I immediately knew where they got it from. As I’ve stated in many other articles for Zisk that I’ve written, I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan through and through and though Mario Mendoza only spent five seasons with the Pirates, for those of us who lived and breathed Buccos, it felt like an eternity.

Mendoza came into this world as a late Christmas gift for his parents. He was born December 26, 1950 in Chihuahua, Mexico. While playing for the Mexico City Reds in 1970, Mendoza was known as Manos des Seda or Silk Hands. His ability for grabbing grounders prompted the Pirates to pick him up.

As baseball writer Bruce Nash once said, Mario Mendoza wasn’t just a bad hitter, he was terrible. (However, he still he wasn’t the worst hitter to ever wear a Pirates uniform as that distinction would go to none other than Pirates pitcher Bob Buhl who in 1962 came to the plate 70 times and failed to get a hit the entire year. Mendoza, eat your heart out!) I hear Tony Suck was pretty bad too (and that’s not even a fake name folks). But ol’ Mario, with a .215 lifetime average wasn’t much better and his .198 average in nearly 400 at bats during the 1979 season for the then-new Mariners was certainly laughable. Rupe’s Troops were out for blood. Thank god Mendoza had a decent glove.

If the story is correct, it was Kansas City Royals star George Brett who coined the phrase, “The Mendoza Line” (though there is some controversy surrounding that as there are questions over whether the term originated with Mario or with another player, Minnie Mendoza of the Minnesota Twins). Due to Mendoza’s hitting skills, or lack thereof, it prompted Brett to state, “The first thing I look for (in the listing of batting averages) in the Sunday paper is to see who’s below the Mendoza Line.” Apparently when the Texas Rangers released Mendoza in 1982 his average was a paltry .118. Then again, according to some, Tom Paciorek was the one who coined it the phrase. Then again, Paciorek has always said it wasn’t him but Bruce Bochte who was the ball buster. Whomever it was, the phrase has stuck around to become a Sportscenter standard. Not only that, but apparently they used the phrase on Beverly Hills 90210. When that show was on in the mid 90’s I watched it regularly (and Melrose Place too, I’m proud to say) but I don’t remember hearing a character on the show mention the saying. (Apparently it was “Brandon” in reference to his lousy grades.) Hey, at least Mendoza is famous for something, right?

After failing to jump on with a major league team in 1983 Mendoza began playing Triple A ball in Hawaii and bounced around there for a while until 1992 when he hooked on as a manager for the Angels farm system.

In the twilight of his career as Angels manager (and right around the time Brandon was hipping Beverly Hills 90210 watchers to the famous phrase for mediocrity) a few college friends in Athens, Georgia were forming a band. They loved baseball (or at least one of them did, Peter Hoffman) and they loved the idea of naming their band after such a phrase. So in the mid-90’s The Mendoza Line, the band, was born. Though with a revolving door of members throughout the years (several of them contributing songs) the duo of Timothy Bracy and Peter Hoffman were the band leaders and kept the name alive and not just mediocre-ly either. The Mendoza Line released a string of terrific records that any band would be proud to call their own. While their earlier material was more in the indie pop direction (on the Kindercore label) by their third record they were flirting with some classic songwriting styles and writing epic songs. (Bracy has a classic croak that on a good day sounds more like Bob Dylan than Bob Dylan does these days.) Seriously folks, your hard-earned dough would be well-worth plunking down on T.M.L. records like Full of Light and Full of Fire, Fortune, Lost in Revelry or the brand new (break up?) record, 30 Year Low. (Hoffman left the band after 2004’s Fortune and Bracy and his wife, band member Shannon McArdle, have recently gotten divorced.)

These days Mario Mendoza is a manager in the Mexican League and as far as the band, well, as stated above, I’m not sure what the status of the band is. I don’t think Mario Mendoza has ever been to a Mendoza Line gig and I don’t think the band members in T.M.L. had ever gotten a chance to see Mendoza play live. And although each could have done what they did without the other (the band could have named themselves something else, like Hoobastank or something—oh wait that name is already taken), the world would have been a lot less interesting had that happened. If you’re reading this article please put down the your copy of Zisk and go find some old footage of Mario Mendoza on You Tube or go buy a Mendoza Line CD and bask in the genius, the pure genius of both of them.

(Author’s note: Some of this information was found in the July 2nd, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated.)

Tim Hinely lives in Portland, Oregon where he publishes his own zine, Dagger. For a copy please write to

No comments: