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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

Cubs’ fans have reason to cheer again

July 15, 2001

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They are scattered all across this great land, proud members of the Emil Verban Society, dedicated fans of the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs being the Cubs, the fans don't have it easy. Never have, probably never will. Easy is rooting for the Yankees and their 26 World Series championships. Try rooting for a team whose last championship came when Theodore Roosevelt was president.

Bruce Ladd, one of the founders of the Society, shrugs off criticism of his beloved team.

"As Jack Brickhouse said, 'Any team could have a bad century,'" Ladd said about the Cubs' announcer. "We have had a bad century. It is not a good record. But we have our little moments and we savor them."

The first half of the 2001 season qualifies. These are heady times for the Verban Society. The Cubs reached the All-Star break in, of all places, first place.

"It is," Ladd reminded, "only July."

There is a built-in cynicism that comes with rooting for the Cubs, longtime doormats of the National League. Ladd said Verban members are accustomed to riding their team's roller-coaster.

"We don't let the highs or lows affect us," he said. "We don't get excited. We don't get worked up. But we don't quit on them, either."

Verban Society members are pragmatic. They recognize that success can be fleeting. The Cubs have not played in a World Series since 1945 and have not won one since 1908. There were division titles in 1984 and 1989, and a wild-card berth in 1998, little satisfaction in the long run. That's why 2001 has been so much fun so far.

For their part, the Cubs face the second half bravely.

"We have a long way to go," manager Don Baylor said. "We have to try to maintain a balance. We've succeeded so far. But, like all good teams, it's all about pitching. Our pitching has done the job all year. It's why we are where we are."

Slugger Sammy Sosa said his team has a chance "to shock the world."

"This has been something that I have been working so hard for and now it's about to become reality," he said. "It's a good feeling we have here. We know we can compete against anybody."

For its part, the Verban Society is proceeding with caution, which seems appropriate.

Ladd and some Washington pals, including Dick Cheney, launched the Society in 1976, honoring a journeyman infielder who rarely struck out and hit just one home run in an otherwise unremarkable seven-year career.

Why Verban?

"It was a lark," Ladd said. "The name came up. He was an old, trustworthy, loyal, dedicated, plodding Cubs player. I grabbed it."

The Society became an immediate hit, its membership swelling to 700. The roster includes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her affiliation was in jeopardy, however, when she wore a New York Yankees hat while campaigning for the Senate. She was excused, the issue dismissed as a matter of political expediency.

Truth be known, expelling her would have been complicated.

"We have no officers, no committees and no dues," Ladd said. "All we do is sit back and enjoy our team."

Each year, the Society sponsored a lavish luncheon in Washington. That has been scrapped, replaced by plans next year for back-to-back day games at where else? Wrigley Field.

Wrigley, of course, for years was the last bastion of day baseball. That changed in 1988 when lights were installed, a move not exactly celebrated by baseball traditionalists. There is some evidence it might have been frowned upon in other places, as well.

With great hoopla and anticipation, the first night game at Wrigley was scheduled for Aug. 8. It rained that night, long and hard enough for the game to be postponed. A message from a higher authority? Perhaps.

Ladd is ambivalent about night games invading the pastoral daytime setting of Wrigley. The fact, though, is that the Verban Society members will be attending day games.

The field trip includes dinner at Harry Caray's Restaurant after the first game, and brunch atop a Waveland Avenue building owned by one of the members before the second one.

And if the Cubs win, well, that would make it perfect. Not that losing would spoil their fun. The Society is used to it.

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