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     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 readers.


     Subtitled Fifty Batters Below .200, Mendoza's Heroes turns the All-Time

Leaders board upside down and examines the playing careers of half a hundred

performers who number among the very worst hitters in major league history.

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 leaguers.


     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.