|Yankee outfielder Jake Powell, left, is presented with a wallet as a token of esteem from fans of Laurel, Maryland, where he once played semi-pro ball, by Laurel mayor E.E. Hatch. (Library of Congress).|
Bob Elson is not the sort of person you’d expect to touch off one of the most notorious racist incidents in the history of Chicago sports.
A former choir boy who sang with the famous Paulist Choir, his golden voice made him a natural for radio.
But that’s the thing about racism. It’s a snake; you never know when it’s going to spring out of some hidden recess and bite you.
In the 1930s, Elson broadcast both Cubs and Sox games. The Bears, too. On days when there were no home games, he would sit in a windowless studio and recreate out-of-town contests from telegraphed reports.
Finding something to put on the air was a constant challenge. The “Man in the Dugout” interview was Elson’s idea: Fill time before the first pitch talking to players.
On a lovely late July day in 1938. Elson was at Comiskey Park with his live microphone, chatting up players. He buttonholed Yankee slugger Jake Powell, who batted .455 in the 1936 World Series.
“How do you keep in trim during the winter months in order to keep up your batting average?” Elson asked. A lazy pop up of a question. But Powell muffed it, big time.
“Oh that’s easy,” he replied. “I’m a policeman. I beat ...”
And here he used the plural of a word that I’m not even going to hint at. Not my choice — I would just lay it on you, full bore, and trust you would not shatter like glass.
“... over the head with my blackjack.”
Mary DeVoto, a veteran history teacher at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, more recently used the word, trying to contextualize offensive sports team names. Now she’s out of a job.
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