By Steve Haston - AngelsWin.com Contributor
When you say that Jeff Mathis’ career batting average is below the Mendoza line, you’re slapping Mario Mendoza in the face. Contrary to popular opinion, Mendoza was actually a lifetime .215 hitter. The Mexican born shortstop that has the dubious distinction of being the namesake for minimum productivity at a defensive minded position, shortstop in his case, was better than his reputation would have you believe. Mendoza also had skills above and beyond Mathis with 2 IP in 1977 with Pittsburgh, his first and longest tenured team. Generally, Mathis can hardly get a throw to second without putting it on the wrong side of the bag or hitting Peter Bourjos on the fly, much less take the bump in mop up duty.
After his Major league career Mendoza went back to Mexico where he finished his Mexican career with a .291 batting average. He then spent time managing the Angels' single A affiliate, which also included managing his son, a prospect who never made it to the big club. As a player that was equally praised for defense and belittled for his hitting, Mendoza’s run at managing also shows that his clubhouse presence and leadership kept him on major league rosters. Mendoza is a good baseball man, an inductee into the Mexico Baseball Hall of Fame and above all, not deserving of the catchy moniker with which he is tagged.
For Comparison’s sake, let’s get down to numbers: Mathis v. Mendoza. Out of seven seasons in which he had more than 50 at bats, Mendoza batted above .211 in four. Jeff Mathis has matched his career best in average twice, both in the 2007 and 2009 season where he hit, you guessed it .211. The parallels continue. In 1977 and 1979, 30 years before Mathis put up identical batting average numbers; Mendoza did the same, hitting .198 in both seasons. Mathis’ career batting average nearly identical at .199. One can only imagine the plight of Mario Mendoza. Year after year he is used as a measuring stick for players that simply can’t hit. Fortunately for Mario, Jeff Mathis may just be the player to take his title. How, in good conscience, can sportscasters continue to use the phrase “Mendoza line” when there is a regular major league player in the modern era who has been worse? Mendoza has been, and continues to be, miscast in a role clearly written for another.
On second thought, forget about Mendoza’s feelings on the matter. What about the millions of angst-riddled Angels fans who have suffered through the automatic out that is Jeff Mathis over the past five seasons? My wife is legitimately concerned that the next phrase my 18 month old learns might be “Dammit Mathis.” In my home the second word of that phrase is the expletive. I’ve thought of a line of t-shirts stating simply “I drink because we have Mathis.” Messing up around the office is now referred to as “pulling a Mathis.” That overpaid admin in the corner cubicle that management won’t fire for fear of a discrimination lawsuit, we call him “Mathis”. While golfing last week, I shanked a drive out of play and heard from behind me “Nice Mathis”. My office manager, realizing that my sandwich was messed up at a lunch meeting said giggling “They must’ve hired that catcher on the Angels.” I didn’t even know she was a sports fan. My wife shut my daughter’s finger in the car door, “You Mathis’d the baby!” And now, when I see someone batting below .200 in the Majors, I say that they are below “The Mathis Line,” and so should you. Mario Mendoza deserves to be let off the hook.