September 6th is a day that lives in baseball lore.
The obvious reason for most baseball enthusiasts happened 20 years ago today. On September 6th, 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, surpassing Lou Gehrig‘s all-time record for consecutive games played.
Lost to many baseball enthusiasts, but perhaps even more incredible in terms of its sheer improbability is a moment that occurred on September 6th, 1948, a day in which a record in futility was set. That moment belonged to a ballplayer by the name of Emil Verban. This is his story.
Emil Verban was a late-blooming journeyman second baseman who spent a seven-year career split between the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Braves. Despite first signing a contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1936, Verban would not make his debut until age 28 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944. Despite this late start, Verban had a solid career .272 batting average, was selected to the National League All-Star team twice, and won a World Series with the Cardinals in his rookie season of 1944. Notably, Verban hit .412 in his lone World Series trip, and drove in the deciding run of the Cardinals’ Game 6 victory over the in-town rival St. Louis Browns.
Verban’s best individual season came in 1945, a year in which he hit .278 for the Cardinals and drove in 72 runs on a second place team. The following year, Verban was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after playing only one game for St. Louis and continued his solid play, hitting .272, making his first All-Star team and even getting a few votes for the National League Most Valuable Player award. Verban hit a career-high .285 for the Phillies in 1947, garnering a second nod for the National League All-Star team and placing him 22nd in the National League Most Valuable Player vote, then found himself on the move again during the 1948 season, when the Phillies traded him to the Cubs mid-season.
Verban’s fateful moment came in a game on September 6th, 1948 between Verban’s Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. Going into the top of the 7th inning of the first game of a doubleheader, Verban had recorded 2,592 career at-bats without hitting a home run. With the Cubs trailing 1-0 to the Cincinnati Reds, ironically the team that had originally signed him, Verban hit a game-tying solo home run on an 0-1 pitch with two outs.
What makes this unique is that no player in the history of the game had ever gone as many at-bats as Verban had without hitting a home run, and no player has done so since.
Although the Cubs went on to lose the game 3-1, Verban finally had an opportunity to take a trip around the bases. It came in the fifth year of his career and, as it turned out, it would not happen again.
After hitting a hot .294 for the Cubs in the second half of the 1948 season (a season in which he hit a cumulative .269,) Verban’s play began to fade and he was out of baseball after playing a half season for the Boston Braves in 1950.
What makes Verban’s lone home run all the more remarkable is who he hit it against. It was a twist of fate that Verban’s home run would come against the team that originally signed him in 1936, but never gave him a chance to play. But more unusual was the pitcher who gave up the blast. It was none other than Johnny Vander Meer, the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts.