Eddie Waitkus: An “Unnatural” Destiny.

waitkus-52t When Bernard Malamud wrote about baseball phenom Roy Hobbs getting shot by a mysterious woman in black in his novel “The Natural,” he was doing what a lot of writers do for the sake of art. He was drawing from real life. Oh, there never was a real Roy Hobbs, just a lot of young guys who may have looked like him or Robert Redford on the field, but even they were all lost in a barrel with the one guy who really was him on the diamond, a fellow named Mickey Mantle, but even ladies man Mickey somehow always dodged the bullet. We likely will never know how close that guys like Mantle or Ruth ever came to suffering in reality the artful Hobbsian fate.

First baseman Eddie Waitkus of the Philadelphia Phillies and a disturbed young woman from Chicago named Ruth Ann Steinhagen were another story. On June 14, 1949, Waitkus and Steinhagen spent no more than five minutes of their lives together in a Chicago hotel room, but that shared time almost turned out to be the last five minutes in Eddie’s life – and definitely enough stuff to later make up a baseball story dream launcher for writer Malamud.

Here’s how it happened.

Ruth Ann Steinhagen grew up a troubled young girl In Chicago. In 1946, at age 16, she went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with her girl friend and the latter’s boy friend. She became fixated on Eddie Waitkus at this game. Waitkus was then the Cubs’ first baseman and he was having a pretty good year at the plate, but that didn’t really matter. Steinhagen thought he was cute.

Ruth Steinhagen started an intense scrapbook on Eddie Waitkus, documenting his every achievement and printed picture as religiously as later generations of young girls would similarly record and celebrate the lives of certain rock stars. Ruth still had major issues with her self esteem and was episodically involved in psychiatric therapy during her adolescence. She doesn’t appear to have ever experienced an actual relationship with any male as a boy friend during this early period of life.

When Eddie Waitkus was traded by the Cubs to the Phillies on December 14, 1948, Ruth Ann cried and said she didn’t want to live. She went through a very shaky period, but finally decided she needed to see Eddie Waitkus and let him know that she wanted to be his girl friend. It was a very psychotic idea. I rather doubt she shared it with anyone in any position to stop her back then. Even in 1948, it would have raised red flags among the psychiatrically trained. Even then, mental health experts knew that patients who are suicidal over psychotically perceived  losses are equally capable of turning around their self-destructive thoughts and converting them into thoughts of harming the perceived cause of loss and pain.

In this case, Eddie Waitkus was perceived as the one to blame for the pain of Ruth Ann Steinhagen. It was all Eddie’s fault, in her mind, and he didn’t even know the girl.

In May 1949, now 19 and an attractive young woman, Ruth Ann Steinhagen took out a two-day room reservation at the Edgewater Beach Hotel on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, where Waitkus and the Phillies would also be staying during a series with the Cubs.

Ruth Ann also invited a friend, Helen Farazis, over to the hotel on her first night  there, June 13th. Ruth told Helen that she had a a gun and that her real intentions in being there were to shoot Eddie Waitkus. Helen did not believe Ruth Ann, nor did she tell anyone else about what seemed like a joking threat.

The next day day, June 14, 1949, Ruth Ann went to Wrigley Field and watched Eddie Waitkus and the Phillies beat up on the Cubs, 9-2. She then went back to her hotel room after the game and ordered three drinks from room service. When the bellboy arrived, she gave him five dollars and told him to take a written message to Eddie Waitkus. The note read as follows:

““It is extremely important that I see you as soon as possible.  We are not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about.  I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain this to you as I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow.  I realize this is out of the ordinary, but as I say, it is extremely important.”

Steinhagem signed the note “Ruth Ann Burns” and the bellboy left in the room that was shared by Waitkus with teammate Russ Meyer. (Here’s the story gets a little tricky, almost as though a Hollywood scriptwriter or Barnard Malamud had come up with the gimmick on a cup of coffee and five or six cigarettes!)

Meyer came  back to the room first. He found  the note inviting Waitkus to join Ruth in Room 1297. Meyer assumed the note was from a real girl friend of Eddie, a woman named Ruth Martin. When Waitkus then arrived, Meyer just told him that Ruth was waiting for him in Room 1297. Eddie went on up to the noted room, all the while thinking it was an invitation from his real friend.

When Eddie arrived at Room 1297, he asked for his friend, Ruth Martin. Ruth Ann Steinhagen simply introduced herself as a friend of Martin’s and explained that she had stepped out for a minute. She invited Eddie into the room for a short wait for Ruth Martin. Eddie suspected nothing and accepted. He stepped into the room and took a seat.

As Eddie was seating himself, Ruth Ann walked straight to the closet and pulled out a loaded .22 rifle. She took aim at Eddie Waitkus and pulled the trigger, hitting him once in the chest under the heart. As she did so, she yelled the most famous words ever expressed by most people in cases of relationship “love” violence: “If I can’t have you, nobody can!”

The bullet lodged in the muscles near the spine as Eddie Waitkus’s right lung collapsed. Ruth Ann Steinhagen then calmly called the front desk and told them that had just shot a man in Room 1297. Had she not placed the call immediately, it is likely that Eddie Waitkus would have bled to death.

Eddie Waitkus recovered physically and went on to highlight  his career as a member of the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids champions, finishing in 1955 with a lifetime batting average of .285. Eddie passed away from cancer at age 53 on September 15, 1972.

Ruth Ann Steinhagen was found innocent by reason of  insanity and committed for psychiatric treatment of schizophrenia and therapy that included a long period of hospitalization and shock therapy. On April 17, 1952, less than three years after the shooting, Ruth Ann Steinhagen was declared sane and released.  The charge of assault with intent to kill was dropped. She and Eddie never saw each other again.

Years later, Eddie Waitkus looked back on his near fatal encounter with the psychotic Ms. Steinhagen and remarked, ““She had the coldest-looking face that I ever saw.”

You bet she did, Eddie. It was cold steel cold.

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2 Responses to “Eddie Waitkus: An “Unnatural” Destiny.”

  1. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: Good to read about the Waitkus story again. I remember when it happened although I was only 14 at the time. As an interesting aside, Eddie Waitkus’ son is an attorney who practices here in the Denver area and has appeared before me on several occasions. We always talk about his father and his memories of him. Wayne Williams

  2. Joseph Biundo Says:

    Bill, that was a great and very informative article on Eddie Waitkus and the shooting. As I have indicated previosuly, the 1950 Whiz Kids were my favorite team of all times. I was already following them daily in 1949 when Eddie was shot. I was only 11 and remember the event well, but the newspapers never did give much information. I was selling the New Orleans States news paper in the afternoon from my Dad’s drug strore, and we also had the Times Picayune, the A.M. New Orleans paper, and so those papers were read daily by me. The New Orleans States is long defunct. It had later merged with the New Orleans Item, another afternoon paper, to become the State-Item and then folded. I never knew the details of the shooting, and am glad than you provided the back ground story.
    With Best Regards,
    Joe Biundo

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