So, we’re at the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season. We just celebrated the All-Star Game and drooled over studs like Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer. But while the midway point of the baseball season is used to honor the best of the year to date, we here at Rumors and Rants, of course, prefer to focus on the worst. (Like we did last week.)
Sure Pujols’s .332 batting average, 32 home runs and 87 RBI are ridiculously top notch. But what about Jason Giambi’s .192 average. Or perhaps Chris Young’s .196 clip for the Diamondbacks. One-time MLB’s top prospect Jay Bruce is batting .207.
We all know the Rangers are making waves in the AL West, but lets not forget about their slugging first baseman, Chris Davis. The dude is batting .202 in 258 at-bats and has struck 114 times. He has 62 more Ks than hits so far this season. Davis is on pace to crush the record set last season by Arizona’s Mark Reynolds, when he fanned 204 times. That’s pretty friggin’ awful.
Earlier this season, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen went off when some of his players’ numbers dipped close to the Mendoza Line: “If this was the 1980s, (none) of these guys would be in the big leagues right now, because if you hit .210-.230 and can’t execute, I don’t think you should be out here.”
Ozzie is right. Batting in the low .200s is bad, but I’m interested in the freaking abysmal. I’m interested in the likes of a Giambi and Young – the sub-Mendoza Liners.
For those new to baseball, the Mendoza Line is .200. Any batting average less than that is considered below the Mendoza Line, which was named after light-hitting shortstop Mario Mendoza. Mendoza had a career batting average of .215, though he batted below .200 in five of his nine MLB seasons (1974-82). George Brett is given credit for coining the phrase, although Bruce Bochy and Tom Paciorek also get credit for its inception into baseball vernacular.
In the early 1980s, Brett was asked about his own batting average, and he replied, “The first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who is below the Mendoza line.”
Prior to Brett’s inspiration, light hitters were called more than just pussies. In the 19th century, they were called a “tapperitis hitter” (one who hits tappers). Phrases like, “Can’t hit a balloon,” and my personal favorite, “Can’t hit a bull in the ass with a shovel,” were popular around the turn of the century. You could have been a “buttercup,” “an out man” or a “Punch and Judy hitter” too. Now, they’re bunched in with a Mexican Baseball Hall of Famer, who has about as much bite as the town he hails from – Chihuahua.
So, I started to do some research with Giambi currently languishing below the Mendoza Line. A six-time All-Star and 2000 AL MVP, Giambi is too good to finish an entire season batting under .200. Right?
Well, it turns out there are quite a few of former All-Stars and even some Hall of Famers, who finished an entire campaign under .200. I set the minimum at-bats to 100. I figured if you couldn’t get 20 hits in 100 tries, that was a good enough measure that you sucked that year. And I don’t care if you were a rookie or a broken down vet, whether you were injured or playing the race card. If you can’t get 20 hits in 100 tries, you blow.
I also found something interesting in my research. There hasn’t been a set date of when steroids use in Major League Baseball exploded, but I can tell you it probably wasn’t before 1991. That year, Mark McGwire batted .201 in 483 at-bats and his partner in crime, Sammy Sosa batted .203 in 316 at-bats. Now, I’m not saying steroids weren’t being used in 1991. Of course they were. But if you bat a sliver above the Mendoza Line and you’re on the juice, well then my friend, maybe baseball isn’t your sport.
Steroids talk aside, below are 10 of the best players to bat under .200 for an entire season (remember, minimum 100 at-bats):
1. Mike Schmidt (1973) – .196 in 367 at-bats
A three-time NL MVP and 12-time All-Star, Michael Jack Schmidt is considered among the best third basemen to ever play the game. However, the Phillies Hall of Famer batted over .300 just once in his career (1981 when he batted .316). Schmidt was more of a power guy. He led the NL in home runs eight times and his 548 dingers are 13th all-time. But contact was never Schmidt’s strength. He struck out 1,883 times in his career (7th most all-time) and he led the NL in Ks for three straight years (1974-76). In 1973, his first full season in the Majors, he had exactly twice as many strikeouts as hits (136 to 72). That led to the 23-year old’s worst statistical Major League season and a .196 batting average. He rebounded a year later (.282, 36 HR, 116 RBI) and was named to his first All-Star team and finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.
2. Darryl Strawberry (1993) – .140 in 100 at-bats
The 1983 NL Rookie of the Year and eight-time All-Star, Strawberry was one of the most feared hitters from 1983-1991, averaging 28 home runs a season during that stretch. His combination of size and speed made him one of the game’s premier right fielders. In 1991, he signed a five-year, $22.25 million deal (huge at the time) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He enjoyed a successful first season in L.A., hitting 28 homers and knocking in 99 runs. But personal problems (drug addiction and failure to pay child support among them) and injuries severely slowed Strawberry’s career, which many believed could have approached Hank Aaron-type status with his 280 career home runs at just 29-years old. He would finish his career with 335 long balls (87th in MLB history). In his third season in L.A., Strawberry (who was making $3.8 million that year) played in just 32 games and collected a measly 14 hits in 100 at-bats (an abysmal .140 batting average).
3. Gary Carter (1989) – .185 in 153 at-bats
The only Montreal Expo inducted into the Hall of Fame, Carter was destined for greatness. In 1961, he was the 7-year old national champion of the Punt, Pass and Kick contest. Kid Carter was an 11-time All-Star, including 10 consecutive appearances from (1979-1988). Hehad four 100-RBI seasons and hit at least 20 home runs nine times, making him one of the most offensively prolific catchers in baseball history. However, Carter never once in his 19-season career batted over .300. His high water mark came in 1982 when he batted .293. After 11 seasons in Montreal, Carter was traded to the Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. He spent five seasons with New York, and in his final year as a Metropolitan, a 35-year old Carter batted a miserable .183 (14 hits in 153 at-bats). Understandably, that was the year Carter’s decade-long All-Star streak ended. He spent the next three seasons bouncing around between San Francisco, Los Angeles and back again to Montreal before retiring in 1992 as a career .262 hitter. He’s managed in the Mets’ minor league system and has openly stated his desire to manage the Mets’ big league team one day soon. If they keep losing, he might get his wish because quite frankly, Jerry Manuel blows. Speaking of Manuel, in 127 career at-bats, the Mets manager put up a gaudy .150 batting average.
4. Gary Sheffield (1991) – .194 in 175 at-bats
On April 17, Sheffield became the 25th player in MLB history to hit 500 home runs in a career (the first to do so as a pinch hitter and also the first to do so in a New York Mets uniform). A nine-time All-Star, Sheffield boasts at .292 career batting average in 22 seasons. But in his third full season, a 22-year old Sheffield played in just 50 games complaining the Brewers organization was racist because they preferred Bill Spiers, a white player, at shortstop, forcing Sheffield to play third. It’s been suggested Sheffield faked wrist, thumb and shoulder injuries that season in an effort to get traded from Milwaukee. Obviously his stat line suffered and he batted a pathetic .194. That offseason, he got his wish and was traded to San Diego where in his first season with the Padres, he led the NL in batting (.330 average), hit 33 home runs and knocked in 100 runs.
5. Ozzie Smith (1995) – .199 in 156 at-bats
The Wizard got his moniker because of his ultra-slick glove work. Smith won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves and was known more of a fielder than a hitter. But the back-flipping shortstop still managed to amass 2,460 hits (97th in MLB history). Ozzie made 15 All-Star games, including 1995 when a 40-year old Smith batted a career-low .199 in just 44 games for the Cardinals. The Wizard played one more season (82 games in which he batted .282) before a rift with Tony La Russa made it easier for Smith to retire and walk away from the game.
6. Matt Williams (1987) – .188 in 245 at-bats
Matt Williams always scared me growing up. But only because he looked like a Skinhead. I’m genetically predisposed to fear him, just like German Shepherds. I’m sure he’s a great guy, or maybe he’s not, but he was always on my shit list. Anyhow, this five-time All-Star struggled mightily in his first three seasons in the big leagues. And I mean mightily. In nearly 700 at-bats, Williams opened his career with a .198 average. Luckily for the Giants, they stuck with him because in Year No. 4, the Carson Crusher hit 33 home runs and knocked in a league-leading 122 RBI. He hit more than 30 home runs and knocked in 90 runs six different times during his career. Who knows what might have been if not for the strike shortened 1994 season (the Expos might have actually won something). In just 112 games, Williams had 43 home runs and 96 RBI. Juice much?
7. Eric Davis (1994) – .183 in 120 at-bats
An integral part of the Big Red Machine of the late 80s/early 90s, Davis’s career, which looked to be on the verge of stardom after the 1990 World Series, was derailed by constant injuries. Davis never played more than 135 games in any one season during his 17-year MLB career. Named an All-Star in 1987 and 1989, Davis left the Reds in 1992 for L.A., where he lasted just a season and a half. Late in 1993, Davis was traded to Detroit and a year later, playing in just 37 games, the three-time Gold Glove winner had just 22 hits in 120 at-bats for a .183 average. After such a debacle of a season, Davis retired. He took a year off to let his body recuperate and then came out of retirement and signed back with the Reds in 1996. He hit 26 home runs and stole 23 bases that year while batting .287 in 129 games. In 1997 as a Baltimore Oriole, he was diagnosed with colon cancer (just as Darryl Strawberry had been), but continued to play while still in treatment. He returned to the Orioles in 1998 and enjoyed one of his better statistical seasons, batting .327 (fourth best in the AL) with 28 home runs and a 30-game hitting streak. He then spent two seasons with St. Louis before retiring after the 2001 season, which he spent with San Francisco.
8. Jermaine Dye (2003) – .172 in 221 at-bats
A career .277 hitter, Dye was a RBI machine from 1999-2001, knocking in at least 100 runs in three straight seasons. But two years later, it looked at age 29 that Dye was done. He played in just 65 games in 2003 as he struggled to come back from a broken fibula. Dye posted career lows in all offensive categories, including an abysmal .172 batting average (38 hits in 221 at-bats). He bounced back with a solid 2004 (.265, 23 HR, 80 RBI) before signing with the White Sox. He enjoyed a career renaissance on Chicago’s Southside and was the MVP of the 2005 World Series. A year later, he batted .315 with 44 HR and 120 RBI, was named an All-Star for the second time in his career and finished fifth in the AL MVP voting. Now 35, Dye is a trade option for teams looking for an offensive boost, namely San Francisco.
9. Darren Daulton (1987) – .194 in 129 at-bats and (1991) – .196 in 285 at-bats
The only double dipper in the sub-Mendoza top-10, Dutch probably wishes he could have skipped through his first six MLB seasons rather than time like in his astral travels. He never batted above .225 in any of his first half dozen years of service. And in 1991, Daulton had more strikeouts than hits (66 to 56). But the next thing you know, he’s leading the NL in RBI with 109 a season later. Suspicious? Um, yeah. Daulton would make three All-Star teams and won a World Series with Marlins. He’s waiting for Dec. 21, 2012, at 11:11 a.m., so the lost Mayan civilization will ascend and then vanish into a new plane of existence. I shit you not.
10. Bobby Bonilla (1999) – .160 in 119 at bats
A six-time All-Star, Bonilla was Barry Bonds’s Robin for six seasons in Pittsburgh. Originally a third baseman, Bobby Bo committed 67 errors over a two-year span and was moved to right field by Jim Leyland. In 1988, Bonilla recorded his first of four 100+ RBI seasons and finished second in the NL MVP voting in 1990 (Bonds won). He signed a lucrative deal with the Mets (five years for $29 million), but never replicated his Three Rivers success in The Big Apple. He bounced back with a big 1996 in Baltimore with 28 home runs, 116 RBI and a .287 batting average. He won a World Series with the Marlins a year later before reverting to a part-time player. In 1999, back with the Mets, Bonilla played 60 games and in 119 at-bats managed just 19 hits. He lasted two more years in the league (a season in each Atlanta and St. Louis) before retiring following the 2001 season.
Special Mention: Jacque Jones (2008) – .147 in 116 at-bats
You might be asking yourself why Jacque Jones deserves Special Mention. Well when you get in a fight with said player’s mother at a Cubs Memorial Day Weekend game whilst sitting in former Cubs manager Dusty Baker’s seats, it tends to warrant a mention.
Yes, I got in a fight with Jacque Jones’ mother. It was kind of a big deal. (That’s Big Mama and me pictured courtesy of my buddy’s cell phone cam.) Jones lost a fly ball in the sun ruining Carlos Zambrano’s potential no-hitter. Then he came up with runners in scoring position and two outs and strikes out looking. “What did the sun get your eye!?! I yelled. Mama Jones was none to pleased, yelled something back at me, which I couldn’t understand. So of course, wise ass that I am, I motion to my ear and mouth the words, “I can’t hear you.” Now Mama Jones is pissed, gets up from her seat and verbally berates me about how her son makes more in a year than I will in a lifetime. “That might be so, but we pay him to catch the damn ball!” Security (an elderly woman with an oxygen tube running from her nose to a fanny pack) restores order and documents the event, which makes national news and is printed in my parents’ local newspaper (The South Florida Sun-Sentinel). Nice.