The Mendoza Line | Bad in Sports, Bad For the Budget

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014 By

Try to at least hit your weight, OK?

Mario Mendoza, "father" of the Mendoza Line (Photo: cdn.bleacherreport.com)

Mario Mendoza, "father" of the Mendoza Line (Photo: cdn.bleacherreport.com)

In sports, success and failure are easily quantifiable. There are statistics for almost everything a player or team can do on the field, making the evaluation of an individual or groups specific sports skills as easy as a glance. Sure, some may say that statistics can be misleading, but so long as they aren’t imagined on the spot, I am a firm believer that they are an accurate representations of skill over the long haul.

Whether you’re a baseball player wanting to hit well enough to stay in the lineup or a consumer looking to find a good deal on financing for a large purchase, there is a line that you do not want to fall below. That line shall forever be referred to as the infamous “Mendoza line.”

The Mendoza Line?

If you’re a hitter, it means you need to step it up a notch. If you’re a consumer, it could mean that your credit is somewhat less than perfect, making products like short term loans and installment loans ideal when you need quick cash. Whatever the case, you want your achievements to remain above the Mendoza Line. If you are able to do this, you are “hitting your weight.”

And you do want to hit your weight

In baseball terms, let’s assume you have a husky third baseman who weighs 240. If that third baseman is struggling with the bat, let’s say he’s hitting .227. That means he isn’t hitting his weight, an expression that can be closely tied to the euphemism that he isn’t “pulling his own weight” on the team. Intangibles aside, that is possible.

In terms of your budget, let’s say that you worked hard to put a budget in place, one that you thought would carry you through difficult financial times and enable you to pay off your debts in no time. However, if that budget sputters at the slightest shock life throws your way, there’s a lesson to be learned. Your budget is showing you that it can’t hit its weight, that it is below the Mendoza Line. Installment loans and short term loans may be timely pinch hits when you need quick cash, but your long-term plans must take into account restructuring your budget so that it is more flexible.

OK, who’s Mario Mendoza?

Sorry, I probably should let you in on this little bit of baseball lore. Mario Mendoza was a Major League shortstop who played for three teams (the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers) between the years 1974 and 1982. He was saddled with the “good field, no hit” moniker throughout his career, and his career batting average bears that out: Mendoza hit only .215 over the course of his entire Major League Baseball career. It would have easily gone below .200 if not for a couple of barely passable full seasons. That .200 mark is generally referred to as the Mendoza Line, although a player who can’t hit his weight is also included in that parade.

Why Mario Mendoza?

Is he the only player to swing a weak stick in Major League history? Hardly. Unfortunately, all it takes is for a player of note to make an amusing quip. A sportswriter finds it funny, writes it down, it makes it into print and the rest is history. That player was George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. Brett, a future Hall of Famer, told a newspaper reporter that “The first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who is below the Mendoza line.” He coined an amusing phrase and that image of mediocrity spread like wildfire. This is unfortunate for Mendoza and his line, as he was good enough with the glove to remain in the Majors for nearly 10 years. But such is fate in the sporting world.

Other uses of the Mendoza Line

They know the Mendoza Line of which I speak (Photo: chuckypita.com)

They know the Mendoza Line of which I speak (Photo: chuckypita.com)

According to Wikipedia, the Mendoza Line reference has appeared in a variety of places, from entertainment to media to banking. There’s even a band that’s borrowed the name, although I have no idea why they’d want to be associated with mediocrity. Here are just a few instances of how Mario Mendoza continues to make his mark. Call it a lucky seven, because Mario may still need help:

  1. On the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” Barney tells his friend Ted that Ted’s new girlfriend’s “craziness outweighs her hotness.” Barney trots out the phrase “below the Vicki Mendoza diagonal” to describe her, which is both a reference to Mario Mendoza and one of Barney’s old girlfriends.
  2. In the teen soap opera “Beverly Hills 90210,” one of the teachers at the local high school encourages Brandon and freshmen friends to raise their grade average above the Mendoza Line if they hope to pass the class. The reference is lost on the young students who prefer hanging out at the mall to baseball.
  3. The auto insurance industry also has a Mendoza line. When a claim representative exceeds 100 vehicles in their case load, they’re up to their elbows in work. In other words, it’s going to take a long time to dig them out – just as it would take quite a long hot streak to make a Mario Mendoza into a George Brett.
  4. MSNBC political news analyst Keith Olbermann, who used to be a sports anchor on the ESPN network, once referred to a “Mendoza Line of presidential politics” when discussing Rudolph Giuliani and his withdrawal from the 2008 U.S. presidential race. Giuliani was at the Mendoza line in the sense that he was only able to secure one delegate in the primaries.
  5. There’s even a Mendoza Line in the motion picture industry. The phrase refers to a movie that earns less than $2,000 per theater on average over a weekend. Why the $2,000 mark? It seems that for major studio films, it costs around that amount to create and ship a print of a movie to a theater. Movies that fall below the Mendoza Line tend to disappear quickly and go to video. According to Wikipedia, this way of using the Mendoza Line was begun by C.S. Strowbridge of the box office Web site The Numbers.
  6. Even the financial industry has a Mendoza Line. Private banks tend to hold reserve requirements for their major customers. The reserve amount varies. If financial calamity causes funds in a private client account to dip below that reserve, that client is below the Mendoza Line.
  7. Finally, to conclude this luck seven, let’s return to the world of sports from whence the mythical Mendoza Line was spawned. ESPN has used the term to refer to decreasing average salaries in professional leagues that have been hit hard by the current economic recession. It’s a “salary Mendoza Line.”

You want your budget to be a hit

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The best way to achieve that is to plan for the unexpected. Set aside a certain amount of your monthly budget to deal with little surprises like car repairs or carting sick kids to the ER in the middle of the night. Whatever it is, it pays to be prepared. Installment loans and short term loans are great for quick cash – you can even apply for them here – but some real planning is what your budget needs for long-term health. If the Mendoza Line is in sight, make changes for the better.

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