CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The straight-to-the-point letter, typed on official White House stationery, says everything you need to know about the intersection of the two most important hobbies in the life of Bruce Ladd -- politics and Cubs baseball. It is matted and framed in the corner of Ladd's library, a room where pictures of Ernie Banks and Jack Brickhouse sit next to those of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, a room where the autobiography of Bill Clinton sits five volumes away from "The Complete Book of Chicago Cubs."
The letter, written by Sen. Hillary Clinton when she was first lady, served as her formal acceptance of membership into the Emil Verban Memorial Society, the Chicago Cubs fan club that Ladd started in 1975.
I am pleased to accept your generous offer of membership into the Emil Verban Memorial Society.
In accepting I must say that the Tribune Co.'s decision to let Messrs. Dawson and Maddux go does not increase my optimism for 1993. This could be a truly grievous example of false economy, unless, of course, the Tribune uses the savings to acquire better editorial writers.
I have been following the Cubs for over 35 years and have developed a set of expectations that will probably be met. However, hope springs eternal.
On another wall sits another note from another White House, this one from President Reagan. The last line reads: "May the Cubs bring happiness to Chicago in October."
The Emil Verban Society started as a marketing tool, a way for Ladd, at the time a Washington lobbyist and former White House and State Department employee, to distinguish himself from other political insiders and give himself a lobbying leg up. Ladd realized that at most D.C. political functions, he would find himself in a corner talking Cubs baseball, not politics. So he started the society and named it after Verban, a little-known second baseman who played for the team from 1948 to 1950. He chose Verban because, as he wrote in one of the first of 250 society memos, "he epitomizes the non-flashy caliber of play that has been the Cubs' hallmark through the last four decades."
Thirty-three years after Ladd wrote those words, the society's membership is anything but low profile. It includes Vice President Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and, for the first time in the society's history, both presidential nominees, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Other notable members include actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna, journalist George Will, television personality Bryant Gumbel, noted rabbi Jack Moline, former Cub and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, current team president Crane Kenney and federal inmate 16627-424, better known as former Illinois Gov. George Ryan. "We still send him a newsletter," says Ladd, a Chicago native. "It just goes to a different address."
But the society may be no more after this season. Though there are no dues or responsibilities for members, Ladd has spent the past three-plus decades writing and sending newsletters to keep the membership up-to-date not only on the Cubs but on each other. He wanted to end things eight years ago, when he retired to North Carolina, but the members threw a fit. Now he's 73 and working on a book about Abraham Lincoln. And he can't think of a better time -- what with two Verbanites running for president and the team poised to end its 100-year championship drought -- to shut things down.
"I think it's poetic," Ladd says. "The response from the membership won't be good, but they've been getting what they've been paying for all these years -- very little except for some psychic drama and a hilarious memorandum once in a while. Nobody is going to shed any tears over this. Maybe someday people will say, 'Hey, remember those memos we used to get?'"
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.