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Eddie Waitkus, was a hell of a good baseball player even though most people except the most ardent fans wouldn’t even know his name. He was a two time All Star winner in 1948 and 1949. He was known by some as a ‘natural’ during his early years in semi pro and major league baseball.
After returning from fighting in World War II he became an instant star and popular figure with the Chicago Cubs. While with the Cubbies he had many fans, but none greater than nineteen year old Ruth Ann Steinhagen. She turned her small apartment into a shrine with newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and score cards. Eddie was Lithuanian so she taught herself Lithuanian. A better fan Eddie could not have, but, after the 1948 season the Cubs traded Eddie to the Philadelphia Phillies.
On June 14, 1949 the Phillies were in Chicago to play the Cubs and were staying at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Ruth got a room at the same hotel and left a note asking Eddie to come to her room after the game. As the story goes, he came into the room and sat down after she said she had a surprise for him. She went to the closet, pulled out a rifle and shot him in the chest. Eddie survived the gunshot and played until retirement in 1955. Sadly he suffered PTSD from the shooting and that affected his marriage and his career. Eddie died at age 53 on September 16, 1972 at Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Ruth was found to be insane at the time of the shooting and never stood trial. Instead she was sent to a mental institution and released three years later. When she was released Eddie refused to press charges and she receded into obscurity. Had Eddie decided to press charges, considering the mystery, the baseball fever of Chicago and the country of those days, and Eddie’s popularity, it would have been a circus. These days CNN would have been camped on the courthouse steps, but, that didn’t happen. Ruth managed to live a very ordinary, uneventful (as far as anyone knows) life, except for a novel and a movie.
In 1952 Bernard Malamud wrote the novel The Natural, which involves a baseball player named Roy Hobbs and is loosely based on the life of Eddie Waitkus. In 1984 a film with the same title and based on the novel, was released with Robert Redford playing the part of Roy Hobbs. In the movie Hobbs is shot by a woman named Harriet Bird (played by Barbara Hershey) who then jumps to her death. Ruth’s identity was never compromised.
As confirmed by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Ruth Ann Steinhagen died December 29th, 2012 at age 83. Even those in the medical examiner’s office were surprised to learn who she was when the Chicago Tribune stumbled across her name while reviewing the obituary column. Many had seen the movie or read the novel, but never realized that they had actually handled the body of the woman who shot The Natural.
Thanks to Don Babwin of The Associated Press for his contribution to this story.