Monday, November 10, 2008

"Superjew" Epstein Could Never Be Nicknamed That Nowadays, Could He?

I doubt that Rocky Bridges could have gotten away with it today. Too many PC types -- and I don't mean personal computer.

But in the mid-1960s, Bridges, managing in the California League, marveled at a rival first baseman who was on his way to winning the league MVP Award for leading the circuit in batting average and home runs. And since that first baseman had a plainly ethnic last name, Bridges came up with what he believed to be an apt nickname: Superjew.

"Superjew" was Mike Epstein, who won the California League MVP Award in 1965. The next year, Epstein was in the big leagues for the start of a nine-year career as a power-hitting first baseman, achieving moderate success. He did hit 20+ homers three times, including 30 in just 403 at-bats in 1969 for Ted Williams's Washington Senators. All told, he swatted 130 four-baggers.

Epstein possesses one of my all-time favorite nicknames, and I hope that revelation doesn't put me in bad stead with the PC types.

But Superjew is also one of my favs because I think it's a type of nickname that is probably extinct: the ethnic nickname. They're innocent, really, but I doubt anyone could get away with such handles in today's mainstream. I won't bother giving you examples, because that'll REALLY get the PC people on my case.

At the turn of the 20th century, nicknames were even crueler, but they were totally accepted. You've probably heard or read of ballplayers with first names of Dummy or Rube. "Dummy" was either someone who didn't talk much, or, worse, someone who was literally a deaf mute -- which happened more often than you think. "Rube" was usually someone who wasn't, ahem, a Rhodes Scholar, if you know what I mean. That would be like using a derogatory, slang name today for a mentally challenged individual, that also starts with "r". I think you know what I mean, and can you imagine such a thing?

"Superjew", immortalized on one of those old 3-D baseball cards (remember those?)

Returning to Epstein, even though there's nothing slang about "Jew" (just short for Jewish), it just seems to me that we've become SO sensitive to anything remotely ethnic that even using accurate, accepted words describing someone's heritage can be off-putting when done in nickname form.

I'm half-Finnish. If someone were to call me "SuperFinn", I wouldn't care at all. Of course, I first need to DO something to be called SuperFinn, but that's another story.

But Superjew just seems to be pushing the envelope a bit. Maybe I'm off-base, and ignorant, or both.

Who doles out the nickname also has great impact on whether that nickname is socially accepted. If Epstein's fellow Jews were to coin it today, then that's far more acceptable than if some crusty old, non-Jewish manager were to do it. Someone like Rocky Bridges, for example!

Epstein is still around, a New York kid from the Bronx who's now 65. So is Bridges, 81. By the way, Bridges's real name is Everett Lamar Bridges. No wonder he opted for Rocky.


Blogger Brian said...

I would love to be called "SuperFrog"! But your point is 100% valid - there is nothing wrong with the word Jew, but everyone is so paranoid now, it would never happen.

And I LOVED those 3-D cards.

10:10 PM  
Blogger OldEnglish said...

I'm half Finnish too, SIsu! I love nicknames, so we need a good one for Miguel Cabrera who Rod & Mario inexplicably insisted on calling "Cabby."

12:19 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm not sure which is worse, Miggy or Cabby. And does anyone call Polanco "Polly" besides them?

At least I haven't heard Ordonez being referred to as "Maggie" yet.

10:39 AM  

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