|09-09-2004, 10:34 PM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Cooperstown, NY
Cooperstown Confidential (September 9, 2004) Part 1
Rapping With Superjew
If we play a bit of word association and mention the name of Mike Epstein, the nickname “Superjew” comes to mind almost immediately. In today’s politically correct culture, such a nickname for a current-day player probably wouldn’t have much staying power, but times were different in the late 1960s. Recently, over the weekend of August 29 and 30, six Jewish major league alumni (out of a total of 143 in big league history) participated in a two-day celebration of “American Jews in Baseball” at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. The list of former players included Epstein, a slugging first baseman who played for the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Senators, Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers, and California Angels from 1966 to 1974. During his tenure with the Senators, he played for Ted Williams, an experience that motivated him to become a batting instructor for young athletes in his post-playing days. During his major league career, Epstein established a reputation as a dangerous left-handed slugger on the field and as an emotional, honest, and sometimes confrontational personality in the clubhouse. The following is a transcript of a short interview with Epstein, conducted during the Jewish baseball weekend celebration in Cooperstown:
Markusen: Mike, let me ask you about the first time that you were approached about participating in the weekend. What was your initial reaction?
Epstein: Actually, I didn’t think too much about it. Marty Appel [who coordinated publicity for the event] and I were talking on the telephone and he said, “We’re putting this thing together; would you be interested?” And before I had a chance to say anything, he said, “I’d appreciate it if you would be part of it.” And I said, “That’s all you had to say.” And so I came back and did it not really knowing what I was going to be getting into or what the agenda was. It’s been a magnificent function—for all of us. We’ve all said the same thing. This is really a terrific thing that the people have staged here.
Markusen: It seems like most of the guys have reacted like they’ve gotten more out of it than they even expected going in.
Epstein: Yeah, I think so. For me, it’s fun to be amongst Jewish people who, when you stop to think about it, Jewish people are some of the greatest supporters of the game of baseball. They’re just rabid fans. It’s fun to be around people with that kind of passion.
Markusen: I guess it was one of your minor league coaches, Rocky Bridges, who came up with the “Superjew” nickname. What did you think of that when you first heard it? How’d you take it?
Epstein: Well, it was a compliment, because I had just hit a ball over 500 feet, and I remember Rocky saying as we passed one another, him to coach third base and me to play first base, he said, “Nobody’s ever going to catch that one, Superjew.” And so the next day I came in the clubhouse and the clubhouse boy had written “Superjew” on all my undergarments. I just didn’t really think much about it, certainly not in terms of being offensive but really as a form of being a compliment. It wasn’t something that I ever fostered or tried to continue. To me, there was no continuity in the nickname. But there really was, because my nickname became “Supe,” which was short for Superjew on all the teams that I played for. And then I look in the official encyclopedia of baseball and under my name it has in parentheses, “Superjew.” So I guess I’m not able to get away from it.
Markusen: Mike, in 1972, when you were a part of the Oakland A’s’ first World Championship, you and Ken Holtzman made what I think—and I think most people would agree—were very nice gestures when you wore black armbands on your uniforms in honor of the slain Israelis killed at the Olympic Games. Tell us how that started, whose idea it was, and what it meant at the time?
Epstein: Well, I’m not really sure whose idea it was. But I remember that Kenny and I always spent a lot of time together; we were very close friends. We were in shock. We were in Chicago to play the White Sox, when we heard about the Munich tragedy; we just looked at one another. I’m sure there were a few epithets that came out of our mouths at that time. I don’t remember us saying anything for the next three or four hours; we just walked the streets of Chicago. I mean we were just dazed by what had happened. Not really sure how we came up with the idea, but I think as we look back in retrospect it was something that we felt that we had to do. But it wasn’t anything that we made a conscious decision to do.
Markusen: Final question for Mike Epstein. When you look back at those days with the A’s, was that the highlight of your career—considering the World Championship, all the things that were going on between Charlie Finley and various players, between the players themselves, the whole “Mustache Gang” thing—was that the favorite episode of your career, if you will?
Epstein: Well, playing in a World Series is always a highlight. There’s a lot of great players who never get that opportunity, so I’m very fortunate to have had that opportunity. Actually, there’s quite a few highlights. Another one is having the opportunity to play for Ted Williams and to mentor under him as a hitting instructor for 10 years. That’s an opportunity also that’s been afforded to very, very few. And quite honestly, just being able to step out on a baseball field, and representing Jewish people when you cross the white lines is also a huge highlight for me. I’ve always taken that very seriously; I do to this day. I’m very proud of my heritage and ancestry.
There are a lot of highlights. And the A’s’ win [in 1972] was, of course, too. Believe it or not, it was a very close-knit team. We had a lot of individual personalities, we had a lot of strong people, and we just told it the way it was. But then when we crossed those white lines, boy… If Finley had just kept his act together, that team could have won 10 World Series in a row, because everybody was really young. But, you know, that’s just the way the game goes.
Author of the book, Tales From The Mets Dugout, available from Sports Publishing.
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