Mario Mendoza Hit Four Home Runs

1. April 29, 1978. Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants. Bottom of the 5th. Pirates: 3; Giants: 0. 1 out. No one on base. Jim Barr pitching. 0.048 WPA. 1 RBI. Pirates win the game, 6-2.

What is not but could be if.
We could be crossing this abridged abyss
into beginning.

-Silver Jews

Mendoza, in the fourth year of his career, hits his first major league dinger. It’s worth noting here that in his four years in the Pirates’ farm system, Mendoza hit 18 homers. But still: three years in the majors have passed and Mendoza hasn’t seen that ball fly over the fences. One has to imagine that he’s been trying. It’s easy to imagine Mendoza, during his youth, Chihuahua, Mexico, swinging for the fences and watching his friends watch his home runs sail over their heads. He was almost certainly the best player on his block. Probably the neighborhood. Maybe the city. I’m not the first person to point out that the worst major league baseball player is still a very good baseball player, but have you really thought about how that must feel? To be the best at something your entire life and then suddenly, at the highest level, to have your name become synonymous with failure?

2. June 22, 1979. Kingdome. Seattle Mariners vs. Milwaukee Brewers. Bottom of the 3rd. Mariners: 0; Brewers: 6. No outs. No one on base. Jim Slaton pitching. 0.039 WPA. INSIDE THE PARK HR (RF). Mariners lose the game, 8-15.

Another fine outing, pointing and shouting
“Look, it’s baseball.”

-Guided By Voices

Mario was born on December 26, 1950. The day after Christmas. I always have sympathy for people whose birthdays fall in the week between Christmas and New Years, and it’s hard for me not to assume that it’s not even worse for a Catholic kid in Mexico. In what may have felt like the greatest offensive moment in his career, Mendoza hits an inside the park home run to deep right field. In a game where his team is down by six runs, the run has almost no bearing on the outcome. They lose. Everyone likely forgets that it ever happened. “You got presents yesterday!”

3. April 17, 1980. Kingdome. Seattle Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins. Bottom of the 3rd. Mariners: 1; Twins: 2. No outs. No one on base. Geoff Zahn pitching. 0.120 WPA. Mariners win game, 4-3.

What picks you up from down unless it’s tricks, man
When I’ve been fixed, I am convinced
that I will not get so broke up again

-Okkervil River

Early enough in the season that Mario must have believe that his luck was going to change. He was following 1979, when Seattle was desperate enough to use him as a starter, and in the most plate appearances of his career he had hit .198/.216/.249. In the offseason, he works on his stance and his swing, he closes his eyes and tries to press the failure — eight times out of ten, failure — out of his brain. He returns the next year, and in the second week of the season he swings, and what emerges is this glorious game-tying home run. The world is confetti. The Mariners win. Mendoza is, for just a moment, surfing on top of the wave rather than drowning underneath it.

4. June 10, 1980, Kingdome. Seattle Mariners vs. Boston Red Sox. Bottom of the 3rd. Mariners: 0; Red Sox: 2. 1 out. No one on base. Steve Renko pitching. 0.109 WPA. Mariners lose game, 4-5.

I was dressed for success
But success it never comes.

-Pavement

In his final career home run, Mario Mendoza circles the bases alone one last time. He will go on, a few years later, to a somewhat successful playing and managing career in the Mexican League. They call him Manos de Seda (Silk Hands). In this moment, you can see that Mario never stopped trying to shed his skin, to make you forget his own reputation. He was, in this one moment, a major league home run hitter.



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Summer Anne Burton is a writer and illustrator living in Austin, Texas. She is drawing pictures of Every Hall of Famer.

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Dizzy Valance
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Wow. Silver Jews, GBV and Pavement references all in a baseball post…Do you want to be my internet girlfriend Summer Anne?