Obit of the Day: The Woman Who Inspired The Natural
On June 14, 1929 Philadelphia Philles first baseman Eddie Waitkus received an unsigned note asking him to a meeting in a 12th-floor room in the Edgewater Hotel, located on Chicago’s far north side, where his team was staying. Mr. Waitkus entered the room and from behind heard a woman say “I have a surprise for you.” He was then shot in the back, with the bullet tearing through his lung and lodging near his spine.
The woman who shot him, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, then contacted the hotel’s front desk and waited until an ambulance and the police arrived. She confessed telling the officers that she “just had to shoot somebody.”
But it wasn’t just “somebody.” Ms. Steinhagen had an unhealthy fixation on Mr. Waitkus for several years beginning when he played for the Chicago Cubs in 1946. Ms. Steinhagen not only had a “shrine” to the ballplayer in her room but would set a place for him at the family dinner table, even though they had never met.
Ms. Steinhagen was charged with what is now defined as “attempted murder,” but she never went to trial. She was sent to Kankakee State Hospital to deal with her mental health issues. When she was released almost three years later in 1952, Mr. Waitkus refused to press charges and prosecutors dropped the case.
The same year that Ms. Steinhagen was released for psychatric care author Bernard Malamud published his novel The Natural which followed the career of pitching prodigy Roy Hobbs. Hobbs’ career was cut short, though, when a woman named Harriet Bird invites him to her hotel room and shoots him*. He based the scene on Ms. Steinhagen and Mr. Waitkus. (In the novel, Roy Hobbs returns to baseball sixteen years later as a hitting star with an mysterious past.)
After her release Ms. Steinhagen lived a quiet and secluded life in Chicago. She would later buy a home with her sister Edith Pietl. Ms. Steinhagen would live there for 40 years. She died on December 29, 2012 at the age of 83 - her death discovered accidentally by a Chicago Tribune reporter who was looking through death records.
Mr. Waitkus, who passed away in 1972, was a two-time All Star before the shooting. He returned for the 1950 season when his Phillies lost in the World Series to the New York Yankees. He would play for five more seasons and retire in 1955. He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for years.
(Image of Ms. Steinhagen sitting in a police wagon on June 14, 1949 following the shooting of Philadelphia first baseman Eddie Waitkus. Copyright of the Chicago Tribune via Softpedia.com)
* In the 1984 film version of The Natural Roy Hobbs was played by Robert Redford and Barbara Hershey played Harriet Bird. (You can watch the complete movie here, the Bird-Hobbs scene is at the 20:00 mark.)