Thursday, June 14, 2012
Cubs 365, June 14
While he was with the Cubs, the young first baseman was known for his great defense, his smoking line-drives, and his left-handed bat. The pinnacle of his Cubs career came in 1948, when he made the all-star team. But after the 1948 season the Cubs decided they needed to boost their pitching staff, so they traded the popular Waitkus to the Phillies for two aging starting pitchers (Dutch Leonard and Monk Dubiel). Many people in Chicago were very upset by that trade, but nobody was more upset than young Ruth Ann Steinhagen.
She kept an encyclopedic scrapbook of pictures and clippings of Waitkus. How big of a fan was she? She heard that Eddie was Lithuanian, so she studied and learned the language. Needless to say, 18-year-old Ruth Ann's world was shattered when Waitkus was traded, and according to her mother, she "cried night and day".
Eddie had no idea who Ruth Ann was, but he found out on this day in 1949. He was hitting over .300 for Philadelphia, and was leading all NL first basemen in all-star game balloting when the Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
He must have felt vindicated when his Phillies trounced the team that traded him, 9-2. He had a celebratory dinner that night with his teammate Russ Meyer and Meyer's parents and fiance. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when they returned to the Edgewater Beach hotel around 11:00 that night.
There was a note waiting for Eddie there, from a "Ruth Ann Burns," a girl Eddie had been dating. The note simply said that Ruth Ann was staying in room 1297. Excited to see her, Eddie quickly went to room 1297 and knocked on the door. Instead of Ruth Ann Burns, however, another girl was waiting for him there. She claimed to be Ruth Ann's friend.
"Ruth Ann will be back in a few minutes," the girl said, "why don't you have a seat."
Thinking it was perfectly conceivable that the statuesque 6-foot brunette was a friend, Eddie took her up on the offer. He was sitting in a chair in room 1297 when Ruth Ann Steinhagen emerged from the closet holding a 22 caliber rifle, and said...
"If I can't have you, nobody can."
Then she shot him in the chest.
As Eddie slumped to the ground in agony, Ruth Ann Steinhagen calmly picked up the phone and told the front desk that she had just shot Eddie Waitkus. That phone call probably saved his life. The bullet narrowly missed his heart, and miraculously missed all of his other major organs, but he surely would have bled to death. As it was, it took several hours in the operating room to successfully remove the bullet.
When it came time to punish Ruth Ann Steinhagen, Eddie refused to push for a harsh sentence. He did not attend the trial, and never saw her again. When asked about her, he simply replied: "She had the coldest looking face I've ever seen."
At her trial she couldn't explain why she had done what she had done. She simply explained that "I'm sorry that Eddie had to suffer so, (but) I had to relieve the tension that I have been under the past two weeks." Ruth Ann was found legally insane, and was sent to a mental institution. After a few years of electric shock therapy, she was declared "sane" and released in 1952.
Eddie Waitkus missed the rest of the 1949 season, but eventually returned to the Phillies the next year, and played six more seasons in the big leagues. His baseball abilities didn't seem altered by the event, but as you might imagine, Eddie changed. The once affable and friendly Waitkus became withdrawn. After his career, he became an alcoholic and a recluse. He died in 1972 at the very young age of 53.
His story is said to be the inspiration for Bernard Malamud's novel about a crazy female fan "with cold eyes" who shoots a baseball star. That novel is called "The Natural."