I have been nominated for membership in the Emil Verban Society and I don't know what to do.
The Emil Verban Society is named in honor of a major league baseball player who worked seven years with the Cardinals, Phillies, Cubs and Braves in the 1940s.
In 2,911 at-bats, Emil Verban hit one home run and batted .272.
My kind of guy. A little infielder who couldn't hit the ball out of his shadow. We were even born in the same town, Lincoln, Ill., and he lived in retirement at Elkhart, Ill., while I grew up 20 miles away in Atlanta, Ill., the third-largest Atlanta in the United States.
I wanted to be a major league baseball player so badly I did unusual things.
With a broken bat I would hit rocks I picked up from a railroad bed near our house. I would throw a golf ball against the concrete steps of our front porch and catch it on the rebound (sometimes). I took my girlfriend out for hamburgers without first going home to take off my baseball uniform and clean up (she married me, anyway, and now I never wear my uniform when we go out for hamburgers).
I studied Emil Verban's data in the record books in hopes of unlocking the secret by which a kid from a corn town in central Illionis could become a big league player. With the Cardinals, Verban played alongside Stan Musial for two seasons, even rising to stardom in the 1944 World Series.
Verban led the Cardinals in hitting in that series, going seven for 17, a .412 average, in a six-game victory over the St. Louis Browns. Musial in that series hit .304 Verban played in two All-Star games, too, and they called him "The Antelope," which I liked because I saw myself as a fleetfoot.
I met Verban once. He came by our American Legion practice to give us a few tips. I was at shortstop when I heard the unforgettable words, "You got good hands, kid." A major leaguer, a World Series here, an All-Star infielder, Emil Verban said I had good hands.
I studied the record books some more. Verban led the league's second basemen in double plays in 1944 and had the league's best fielding percentage at second in 1945. And at our Legion practice, he said I had good hands.
Even today, when I drop a $50 bag of groceries, I think of Emil Verban.
So when I told a Chicagoan about my long association with "The Antelope," he said, "I'll get you in the Emil Verban Society."
I would love to be a member.
Except for one problem.
The society is a select group of Chicago Cub fans. They have made Emil Verban a symbol of their dedication to a team that hasn't won a pennant since 1945.
I am not a Club fan.
A wholesome family environment and good teachers at an early age saved me.
I grew up loving the St. Louis Cardinals.
It wasn't easy. Temptation was everywhere. As close to paradise as Atlanta is, it someday will have to answer for the high incidence of Cub fans who live there. Even at Boy Scout meetings, when I would speak fondly of Stan and Man, the Scoutmaster would recite for me the home run leaders, suggesting I should take up with a brute named Hank Sauer.
Being a Cardinal fan, I admired Emil Verban for his early work in St. Louis. But I noticed, in my studies that he had fallen from grace in the late '40s.
Traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies, "The Antelope handled 920 chances with 17 errors to lead the league in fielding percentage in 1947. He cracked out 154 hits and played in the All-Star Game.
Darkness overtook him in 1949. Traded to the Cubs, Verban handled only 474 chances and his 17 errors were the most by any second baseman in the league. Emil, poor guy, had only 99 hits that season and his career would end the next year.
People of the Cub persuasion will tell you Emil Verban simply grew old. They say he went from a 32-year-old Antelope with the Phillies to a 34-year-old Antique with the Cubs.
Don't believe it.
The Cub uniform did it. The Cub pin-striped uniform with the little teddy bear head on the chest brought Emil Verban to the end. This is an outrageous statement, of course, and I wouldn't make it except that I am ready to make a public confession of a sin I have kept secret for 15 years.
I once wore a Cub uniform for an entire summer.
There, I said it. I feel better already.
For reasons beyond my control, I once played on a semipro baseball team that -- forgive me, Lord -- wore Cub uniforms, old hand-me-downs obtained by our manager from a friend who knew someone in Chicago.
I had been a decent player till I put that little teddy bear uniform on. Good hands, fleet feet, lots of singles. I was 23 years old, fresh out of college, a long way from being an Antique.
But I had lost it. From shortstop, I began to throw the ball the way Roy Smalley Sr. did for the Cubs, which meant I endangered anyone foolish enough to stand within 50 feet of first base. Playing alongside Verban in 1949, Smalley made 38 errors, a league high for shortstops, most of them unguided missiles landing in the bleachers behind first base.
As a kid, I went to St. Louis to see baseball. I went to Chicago to catch baseballs in the seats.
I would love to be a member of the Emil Verban Society.
I will not, however, wear a Cub uniform to lodge meetings.