‘The Natural’ Shooter Ruth Steinhagen Dies
By Dr. James Palermo // March 18, 2013
VIDEO: Excerpt from John Theodore’s biography of Eddie Waitkus, Baseball’s Natural (AudioBooksCentral)
The mysterious woman, who shot major league baseball star Eddie Waitkus in 1949 and set in motion the events that inspired the fictitious story about one of the most memorable sports legends in history, died in obscurity at the age of 83 in late December of last year.
A look into the life and career of the afable and debonair Waitkus and the true story that inspired the movie, The Natural, was an integral component of a 2005 Palermo family project based on an extremely rare collection of Major League game-used bats, which had been packed away and all but forgotten for over 40 years.
Rediscovering this true treasure of priceless baseball memorabilia led to a labor of love involving many hours of research on each player represented in the collection, and, subsequently, the creation of a website, whenitwasagame.net (WIWAG), to share our stories dedicated to the remembrance, celebration and preservation of our baseball heritage.
The lead story on WIWAG, Baseball ‘Archeologists’ Uncover Long Lost Bats,‘ was recently featured here on SpaceCoastDaily.com. The Eddie Waitkus story below is one of 37 in-depth profiles on WIWAG of players from the early to mid 50s, seven of whom are in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Waitkus Survived Shooting To Help “Whiz Kids” Win 1950 National League Pennant
Eddie Waitkus began his Major League career on April 15, 1941 with the Chicago Cubs.
A slick-fielding first baseman for 11 seasons for the Cubs, Phillies and Orioles, Waitkus became an immortalized figure in baseball lore as the inspiration for Roy Hobbs in Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel and 1984 movie, The Natural, which starred Robert Redford as Hobbs.
After serving with distinction in the Pacific during World War II, Waitkus became one of the most popular players of his era. As a rookie he led the Cubs in hitting in 1946 and quickly established himself as one of the best first basemen in the National League. To the disappointment of many Cubbie fans, Chicago traded Waitkus to the Phillies in December of 1948.
When he returned to Chicago in a Philadelphia uniform in June of 1949, he was hitting .306 and seemed destined for the all-star team. But, on the night of June 14 at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Waitkus’ bright career took an infamously tragic turn. He received a cryptic note summoning him to meet a young fan, Ruth Steinhagen. When Waitkus entered her hotel room, she shot him in the chest.
Waitkus survived the shooting and made an inspirational return to baseball in 1950. As the Phillies’ leadoff hitter Waitkus helped Philadelphia win the National League pennant — batting .284, scoring 102 runs and playing in 154 games.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, in the 1950 World Series, the Phillies lost to the Yankees by three consecutive one-run decisions.
After being sold to the Orioles during spring training of 1954, Waitkus returned to Philadelphia in late 1955 and retired that fall.
Waitkus was a National League all-star in 1948 and 1949 (missing the game due to his gun shot wound) and played 11 seasons, compiling a lifetime average of .285 and 1,214 hits.
While Waitkus triumphed over his assault, he couldn’t conquer his private demons. According to his family and friends, Waitkus was never the same after the shooting. His outgoing and friendly nature was gone, and replaced with a man who was withdrawn and just generally suspicious of people.
Depression stemming from the attack led to a severe problem with alcohol, a failed marriage and a nervous breakdown. Waitkus worked with youngsters at the Ted Williams baseball camp in the last years of his life. He died of cancer in 1972 at the age of 53.
EDDIE WAITKUS: Did you know…
…Waitkus won four Battle Stars during World War II, and was wounded as an Amphibious Engineer Sergeant in the Pacific.
…Waitkus was offered scholarships to Holy Cross and Harvard, but passed them up to play pro baseball.
…Waitkus, on June 23, 1946, hit back-to-back inside-the-park home runs with Marv Rickert — a Major League first.
…Waitkus hit an inside-the-park grand slam on August 24, 1947. Only six players had accomplished that since 1920.
…Waitkus was traded in Dec. 1948 by the Chicago Cubs with Hank Borowy to the Philadelphia Phillies for Monk Dubiel and Dutch Leonard.
…Waitkus was purchased in March 1954 by the Baltimore Orioles from the Philadelphia Phillies.
…Waitkus was born September 4, 1919 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He died September 16, 1972 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts at age 53.