Epstein, Mike "Superjew" : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Epstein, Mike "Superjew"

Michael Peter Epstein

A feared left-handed slugger, Epstein was a legitimate home run threat in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although he didn't hit for average -- only a lifetime .244 hitter, the highest he ever hit was .278 -- Mike nonetheless slugged 130 homers in 907 games. For four consecutive years (1969-72) his home run totals were 30 (in only 131 games), 20, 19 and 26. He once hit four homers in consecutive at-bats (in 1971); batted in eight runs in a single game (in 1970); and set the American League record for most putouts by a first baseman in a nine-inning game, with 32 (in 1967).

Mike, who won a gold medal playing for the USA's first Olympic baseball team in 1964, played in the 1972 World Series for the great Oakland A's dynasty. Hall of Fame hitting maven Ted Williams, Mike's manager for three years with the Washington Senators, found it amazing Epstein could hit so successfully with his poor vision. Mike's eyesight was never better than 20/35; the doctors were unable to correct it to 20/20. After the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, Mike wore a black armband on his uniform. So did two teammates: Ken Holtzman, who is Jewish -- and Reggie Jackson!

Birth and Death Dates:
b. April 4, 1943

Career Highlights:
A member of the baseball and football teams at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Epstein also played baseball at the University of California-Berkeley. As a junior in 1963, he hit .375 and was offered a contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Mike's father insisted he finish college. A collegiate All-America in 1964, he was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that year and helped them win the gold medal.

In 1965, Epstein began his professional baseball career in the Baltimore Orioles organization and was dubbed "Superjew" by a rival manager in the California League after Epstein led the league in batting and home runs that year. Mike was then named Sporting News Minor League Player Of the Year in 1966 after being named the International League MVP (.309, 20 HR, 102 RBI). At the end of the 1966 season, Epstein also made his major league debut and appeared in six games for the Orioles.

Epstein arrived at spring training in 1967 as baseball's hottest prospect. Unfortunately, the Orioles tried to make Mike an outfielder because they already had Boog Powell at first base. When the outfield experiment failed, the Orioles demoted Mike back to the International League, but he refused to report. Epstein did not play again until May, when he was traded to the Washington Senators. In his first at-bat against the Orioles that year, Mike hit a grand slam, gaining quite a measure of revenge against his former team.

In 1969, Epstein, still with the Senators, had the best statistical season of his career. Mike hit a career-high .278, and was among the league leaders in home runs (30 - ninth), slugging percentage (.548 - sixth), on-base percentage (.412 - third), and, unfortunately, strikeouts (99 - tenth). In the middle of the 1971 season, Epstein was traded to the Oakland A's and played in the ALCS. He went 1-5 as the A's lost to the Orioles, 3-0.

The following year (1972), Mike was terrific as he hit 26 home runs (third in the league), walked 68 times (tenth), had an on-base percentage of .376 (sixth), and a .490 slugging percentage (fifth). The A's defeated the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, 3-2, then went on to win the World Series by beating the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. Mike's teammates on that championship club included three other Jewish players: Ken Holtzman, Art Shamsky, and Joe Horlen. Epstein was traded to the Texas Rangers in the offseason. He remained in the majors with Texas and the California Angels until 1974, when he retired. Following his baseball career, Epstein served as a hitting instructor in the minors, headed a precious medals company, and owned a ranch in Colorado. His son Jake Epstein, played baseball at the University of Missouri.

Career Dates:
Epstein played with the Baltimore Orioles, 1966-67, the Washington Senators, 1967-71, the Oakland A's, 1971-72, the Texas Rangers, 1973, and the California Angels, 1973-74.

First base

Physical description:
6'3 1/2 ", 230 pounds

Career Statistics:
Games: 907
Batting Avg.: .244
Slugging Avg.: .424

At-bats: 2854
Hits: 695
Doubles: 93
Triples: 16

Home Runs: 130
Home Run %: 4.6
Runs: 362
RBI: 380

BB: 448
Strike Outs: 645
Stolen Bases: 7

Pinch Hitting
At-bats: 77
Hits: 12

Fielding Statistics
Put-outs: 6957
Assists: 477
Errors: 70
Double-plays: 681

Total Chances per Game: 9.1
Fielding Avg: .991

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Big Book of Jewish Baseball: An Illustrated Encyclopedia and Anecdotal History, by Peter S. Horvitz and Joachim Horvitz (New York: S.P.I. Books, 2001)