Sunday, June 6, 2010
Eddie Waitkus, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #470
"Baby, why did you do it?"
If you've read Bernard Malamud's novel "The Natural", or seen the movie that it spawned, you know the story of Eddie Waitkus. Early in his career he starred for the Cubs, hitting .297 over his first three seasons. He also earned one very big - and very unbalanced - fan. Ruth Ann Steinhagen was a 17-year-old girl when she first laid eyes on Waitkus in a game at Wrigley Field on April 27, 1947. Despite the fact that she never spoke a single word to the first baseman, she became obsessed with him. She spent as much time as possible at the ballpark, celebrated April 27 as their "anniversary", collected photos and articles featuring him, learned to speak Lithuanian, and listened to records made in 1936 (Waitkus wore #36).
When Eddie was traded to the Phillies before the 1949 season, Ruth Ann was beside herself. She decided to shoot him, explaining later that if she couldn't have him, no one else should either. In June of that year, the Phils came to Chicago for a series. After the June 14 game, Waitkus went out with some friends and returned to the Edgewater Beach Hotel around 12 AM. He had a stack of messages waiting from Ruth Ann, urging him to meet her in Room 1297A. The book "Field of Screams" by Richard Scheinin sets the scene:
"Waitkus went straight upstairs.
Steinhagen opened the door. Waitkus strode past, sat down, and said, "What's up?"
"I have a surprise for you," she answered.
She opened the closet door, took out the rifle, and ordered Waitkus out of the chair and toward a window.
"Baby, what's this all about?"
"For two years you've been bothering me," Steinhagen told him, and now you are going to die."
She pulled the trigger and the shot knocked Waitkus against the wall.
"Baby, why did you do that?" Waitkus asked. "Why did you do it?"
Ruth Ann actually called the front desk to tell them what had happened. Medics rushed the bloody ballplayer into surgery. He made a full recovery, and won Comeback Player of the Year in 1950 for hitting .284 for the NL champion Phillies after missing the second half of the previous season. He played for five more seasons and spent much of the last two with the Orioles, hitting .278 with very little power. His teenaged attacker spent three years in a mental hospital. Though Eddie always dreaded her return, she never contacted him again.
Suddenly I don't feel so guilty about those times that I've heckled players at the ballpark.