The Emil Verban Memorial Society is having its biennial luncheon in Washington Tuesday. Emil Verban will not be there. He has not been invited and he said he's too old to crash. "If they send an airplane," he said, "I'll be ready."
Meanwhile, he's home in Lincoln, Ill., "waiting for the Greyhound bus."
Don't get the wrong idea. Verban isn't feeling the slightest bit slighted. "Hell, no," he said, "I'm not perturbed. I enjoy it. My name will live forever."
The Emil Verban Memorial Society was founded seven years ago in Washington by a small but hardy group of Chicago Cubs fans, whose main activity was commiserating. The club now has more than 200 members nationwide, including President Reagan, who has other commitments Tuesday. As Verban said, "I've got my title. They'll carry on without me."
Unfortunately, the name chosen for the society led some people to conclude that the former Cub second baseman was dead. "One day," Verban said, "a lady came in to see my son the dentist and said, 'I thought your dad passed away.' When they formulate a memorial society, the person is usually dead . . . Usually that's the proper procedure."
At first, Verban was dubious about the honor. Some members of the society kept insisting that Verban had been selected because he represented "mediocrity under pressure," which, of course, would make him an overachiever among Cubs. Verban felt they were taking his name in vain, taking "my performance, my ability, away from me."
A couple of weeks ago, Bruce C. Ladd Jr., who writes the society's memoranda (spreading the bad tidings), and Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), a member in good standing, went on "The Today Show" and clarified the situation. Ladd, who has a sense of humor as well as a sense of (Cub) history, said Verban's name came up one day as the answer to a trivia question. "Everybody always forgets second basemen," Ladd said. "You can name the lineup of the 1950 Whiz Kids, but not the second baseman. Verban was not mediocre at all."
Reassured that he had been honored for his obscurity, Verban cheerfully accepted his notoriety. This week, a television crew from Chicago is coming down to interview him in Emil's Hall of Fame, where he has a bar with stools made out of bats and bases, a sign that says "Emil's Dugout," and his World Series belt, bat and cap.
"You can't buy that publicity," he said. "I've been blessed and accepted and I'm happy."
Besides, he said, "my record speaks for itself."
Lifetime, Verban batted .272. In 2,911 at bats, he hit one home run and, he said, "I'm sorry I hit that. It was against Johnny Vander Meer, a two-time no-hit, no-run pitcher. I couldn't believe it went over the fence."
He never did get the ball. "It was a funny feeling, but I made it home," he said. "I knew how the Babe felt every time he hit a home run."
Verban was a glove man. "A double-play artist," he said. "I never struck out much. I always got a piece of the ball. I led the league in fewest strikeouts in 1947. I only had eight in 540 times at bat."
He came up to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944 and led National League second basemen in double plays. He batted .412 in the World Series (seven for 17) against the St. Louis Browns that year, driving in the winning run in the last game.
"My wife was pregnant and she was sitting behind a post in Sportsman's Park. The Browns were up, two games to one. Right prior to the fourth game, I went to see the owners, they shared an office at the time. I said, 'My wife is pregnant and she is sitting behind a post, can you exchange these tickets for me?'
"The owner of the Browns looked at me and said, 'Ha-ha, for all the good you're doing, you ought to be sitting behind the post.' I was really steamed. I went back to the clubhouse and I said, 'If we ever win this thing, I'm going to tell him.'
"Well, we tied it, 2-2, and then went ahead, 3-2. I was at second base in the final game, and I've got him dead in my sights. He's sitting in a box next to the dugout. When the last out was made, I ran by him and said, 'Now you can sit behind a post, you big meathead.' "
In 1945, he led the league's second basemen in fielding percentage for the Cardinals. A year later, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1947, he had 154 hits and appeared in his third All-Star Game.
But he got off to a slow start in 1948 and, released on waivers, became a Cub on Aug. 3. This, of course, slowed him down even more. In 1949, he led the league in errors and had only 99 hits. Verban swears it was not a case of sinking to the occasion. "Nah," he said, "I was getting old, getting toward the end of the trail. Everybody reaches that time in sports. Then they have to get acclimated to another field in life."
That, he said, "took a hell of a long time."
Verban is 66 now and a gentleman farmer. He owns 400 acres of middle America, 160 miles south of Chicago and 110 north of St. Louis. The tenant farmer grows corn and beans. Verban is also the chairman of the board of the Elkhart (Ill.) Community Bank. The rest of the time, he's out in the "cold, cruel world putting some real estate deals together."
"What would the world do if the farmers went on strike like the ballplayers?" he said. Not that he blames the players. "Talent is scarce and these guys are cashing in. I wish I was one of 'em.
"This guy Kuhn (Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn), I think they ought to fire him. They could have continued on playing and worked it out and made it retroactive. Am I right?"
He is happy that the Cubs have "cleaned house. In three or four years, they ought to be a winning club," he said. He sees very little baseball now. He misses it but he stays away.
"I get a little jumpy watching," he said. "The way they play today is a lot different. The old-timers have a tendency to feel, 'I put in my time, I don't want to see the games.'
"The only thing I wanted as a ballplayer was to make the majors," he said. "After that I wanted to be in the World Series, and also to be in the All-Star Game. All those ambitions were fulfilled. Baseball has been very good to me."
He never expected "nothing like this." But, he said, "I've been given an honor, so I accept."
The last time he put on a uniform was at an old-timers day in 1976 honoring the 10 living members of the Cardinals' 1926 championship team. "Augie Busch gave each of us a wristwatch," he said. "I done pretty good. I got a double and a charley horse in my right leg. It's still there. Honest."