Mendoza's Heroes is the kind of book that most editors in
publishing secretly read cover to cover and love, only then to disappoint the
writer by telling him or her that the work is too quirky ever to find a large
enough audience. Thankfully, in Tom Hetrick, Al Pepper found an editor who not only loved his
book but realized that its very quirkiness is what guarantees it plenty of
Subtitled Fifty Batters Below .200, Mendoza's Heroes turns the All-Time
board upside down and examines the
playing careers of half a hundred
performers who number among the very worst hitters in major
To be included in Pepper's
singular pantheon, a player is required to meet four criteria:
1. A career batting average below the Mendoza Line, which Pepper establishes
to be .200.
2. A minimum of 200 major league plate appearances.
3. Must have played the majority of his career as a position player.
4. Must have completed his major league career prior to 1997.
To be sure, each of the criteria is arguable. Mario Mendoza, the weak-hitting middle
infielder of the late 1970s and early 1980s for whom the Mendoza Line is named, actually had a career batting average of .215 and consequently shows
that the Line is drawn somewhat arbitrarily by failing himself to qualify. Two hundred plate appearances seems a bit
low, and eliminating pitchers from consideration deprives the reader of being
introduced to such intriguing early-day figures as Stump Wiedman
who compiled a .181 career batting average and .209 slugging average while
shuttling between the pitcher's box and the outfield in the 1880s. Finally, we
presume that Pepper put the cutoff point at 1997 at least in
part out of kindness so as to avoid embarrassing any currently active major
But while we might quibble about Pepper's criteria, we have no
reservations about recommending his book. Beginning
with Bill Traffley, a hardnosed catcher who first
appeared on the scene in the 1870s, and ending with Jose Oliva,
the free-swinging all-or-nothing 1990s third baseman whose career slugging
average was more than double his batting average, Mendoza's Heroes shares with us fifty meticulously researched portraits of former major
leaguers from all eras of history. Along
with the familiar names like Bob Uecker and Tony
La Russa, there are swarms of fascinating characters
that the vast majority of readers will be meeting for the first time.
We can't wait for Pepper to do the same honors for beleaguered pitchers that he has done in Mendoza's Heroes for overmatched hitters.