*1949 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot by a deranged fan on this date in 1949. The event became the inspiration for The Natural, first a novel, then a movie.
The book was written by Bernard Malamud in 1952. The movie came out in 1984 starring Robert Redford. The character in the book and movie, Roy Hobbs, was out of baseball for a while after being shot, but eventually made a dramatic comeback.
Eddie Waitkus didn’t make quite as dramatic a comeback, but was back in the Phillies lineup in 1950, and went on to play six more years in the majors.
Waitkus started his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1941, but World War II interrupted and he ended up in the Philippines. He didn’t return to the Cubs until 1946. It was during this time that a young Chicago secretary named Ruth Ann Steinhagen became obsessed with Waitkus. Though not a term used at the time, she became a stalker. The Cubs first baseman was oblivious to the attraction.
Waitkus was traded to the Phillies before the 1949 season. The Phillies played a one-game series in Chicago in May, but a three-game series in June brought Waitkus closer to Steinhagen for an extended period for the first time since he left the Cubs. She got a room at the upscale Edgewater Beach Hotel where the Phillies were staying. She lured him to her room by using the name of a former high school friend of his. When he arrived Steinhagen shot him in the chest. He was close to death several times before the bullet was successfully removed.
Ruth Ann Steinhagen was never put on trial for the shooting, instead she was committed to a mental institution.
The Natural by Bernard Malamud, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1952
Associated Press (AP), New York, November 10, 1950, via Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, Washington
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