George Brett and Mario Mendoza

I wanted to write a nice long piece on Mario Mendoza, his career, his place in baseball history, with maybe a kind of “where are they now” coda.

I thought that with some digging I could find a relate-able “human interest” story. Hopefully an uplifting story of a man overcoming his marginalization in history to forge a new and great relevance to those souls he’s touched throughout his life.

What is the meaning of Mario Mendoza?

It turns out, however, that this story has already been written and it was done much better than I could have done it. Here is the link:

Sports Illustrated: Where are they now? Mario Mendoza

According to most sources, Tom Paciorek coined the term “The Mendoza Line” but George Brett (with the help of ESPN’s Chris Berman) made it popular. According to the SI article linked above:

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.

I just had to know – did that really happen? Here are the facts:

Brett came into the first September series between Kansas City and Seattle (in Seattle) hitting .394.

  • On September 22, 1980 vs the M’s, Brett grounded out to 2B twice and flew out for his third AB that game (he also homered). Mendoza was playing shortstop, so he didn’t rob any of those hits.
  • On September 23rd: single, groundout to 1st, flyball LF, groundout to pitcher [Mendoza didn’t play]
  • On September 24th: groundout to 2B, groundout to SS (Larry Milbourne was playing SS at the time – Mendoza didn’t enter the game until the 9th inning), walk, flyball to LF

In that 3 game set, Brett only hit one ball to shortstop – and Mario Mendoza wasn’t even in the game at the time.

But wait! The Mariners came to Kansas City just a few days later. Perhaps this is when Mendoza robbed Brett of his hits and his chance at reaching .400?

  • On September 30th, the Mariners and Royals played 14 innings. Brett went 3 for 6, including a walk-off 3-run homer in the bottom of the 14th. The three outs he made were: groundout to 2nd, flyball to CF, flyball to CF.
  • On October 1st: Brett and Mendoza both played, but Brett went 3 for 3.
  • On October 2nd: Mendoza didn’t play, and Brett didn’t hit any groundballs to shortstop.

And that was it. They didn’t face each other again.

My determination? George Brett is a decent guy. He’s been propagating this story for years about how Mario Mendoza “got him back” for the Mendoza Line crack by denying his own bid for .400, but nothing of the sort ever happened.

“I still think I should have hit .400 that season,” he said. “The reason I didn’t was Mario Mendoza. I went 1-for-11 or 1-for-12 in a four-game series in Seattle, and the only hit I got was a home run. “Mendoza (the Seattle shortstop) took three hits away from me, all right up the middle, on unbelievable plays. I needed five more hits for .400.”

“To this day I hate the sucker,” he laughed.

You know who turns out to be kind of a jerk in this whole thing? Me. Sure, that story was easily verifiable and someone would have checked it out eventually (maybe already did for all I know), but what do we gain by knowing the truth? Nothing. Maybe a slight insight into George Brett’s humanity and empathy for another ballplayer. But what do we lose? A story even better than this. A story, though maybe not accurate, certainly true.

Just because something isn’t a fact, doesn’t make it untrue.

Like Tom Stoppard writes in “The Invention of Love“:

“I was said to have walked down Piccadilly with a lily in my hand,” says Oscar Wilde “It wasn’t so, but it was the truth about me.”

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  1. Why let the truth stand in the way of a good story? It’s a baseball tradition!

  2. Pingback: Just a Bit Inside | One for Five

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