September 4, 1919|
|Died: September 16, 1972
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
|Batted: Left||Threw: Left|
|April 15, 1941 for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 20, 1955 for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||373|
|Career highlights and awards|
Edward Stephen Waitkus (September 4, 1919 – September 16, 1972) was an American first baseman in Major League Baseball who had an 11-year career (1941, 1946–1955). He played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in the National League and for the Baltimore Orioles of the American League. He was elected to the National League All-Star team twice (1948 and 1949).
Eddie Waitkus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, grew up in Boston. Eddie began his pro career in 1938 playing for the Worumbo Indians, a semi-pro team sponsored by Worumbo Woolen Mill in Lisbon Falls, Maine. As a rookie, he was known as "the natural," which gave the title to the book loosely based on his life. He saw some of the bloodier fighting of World War II with the U.S. Army in the Philippines, awarded four Bronze Stars. Upon his return to baseball he quickly became a star for the Chicago Cubs. He also became a popular media figure, as he was well-educated and was fluent in the Lithuanian, Polish, German and French languages. Following the 1948 season, the Cubs traded Waitkus with Hank Borowy to the Philadelphia Phillies for Monk Dubiel and Dutch Leonard.
Just a few years into the start of what seemed a very promising career, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, an obsessed fan, shot Waitkus at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel on June 14, 1949. In one of the earliest recognized cases of criminal stalking, Steinhagen had become infatuated with him when he was a Cub, but seeing him every day in-season may have kept her obsession in check.
Once he was traded to the Phillies and would only be in Chicago 11 games in the season, her obsession grew to dangerous proportions. She checked into the hotel using the alias of a former high school classmate of his, and left a note at the desk asking him to come to her hotel room on an urgent matter.
When he came to her room, thinking it was a girlfriend of his, she shot him with a .22 calibre rifle, the bullet barely missing his heart. She immediately called the desk to report the shooting and was found cradling his head in her lap.
He nearly died several times on the operating table before the bullet was successfully removed. Steinhagen never stood trial, but instead was confined to a mental institution. Steinhagen's obsession and stalking was covered at length in one of the Fireside Book of Baseball entries.
On the night of August 19, 1949, the Phillies held "Eddie Waitkus Night" at Shibe Park and showered Waitkus with gifts. Waitkus was in uniform for the first time since he was shot in Chicago. After the 1950 season, Waitkus was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.
Prior to the 1954 season, the Baltimore Orioles purchased Waitkus from the Philadelphia Phillies for $40,000 ($347,708 in current dollar terms). Released by the Orioles in 1955, he returned to the Phillies for the remainder of the season, retiring at the end of the year.
Waitkus suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his shooting, which ultimately affected both his career and his marriage. He went through some rough times and died at a relatively young age from esophageal cancer. But his final years were satisfying to him, as he became an instructor for Ted Williams' baseball camp, an activity he enjoyed and which he continued almost to the end of his life.
Author Bernard Malamud, who was not a baseball fan himself, took the basic elements of the Waitkus story and wove them along with various baseball legends (notably Joe Jackson) into a novel, a morality tale called The Natural. The book was published in 1952, and was eventually made into a film that was released in 1984.
The DVD extras for the film contain a biography of Waitkus, which points out that writers in his rookie year often called Waitkus "a natural," a fact that Malamud presumably picked up on. Malamud's version of the tale ended tragically, and unknowingly foreshadowed Waitkus' own downfall as a player.
- Marshall, William (1999). Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945–1951. Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky. p. 528. ISBN 9780813120416.
- "Silly Honey". Time. June 27, 1949. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Andrews, Dale (2013-03-26). "Stalker". Washington: SleuthSayers.
- "Waitkus, Who Beat Death Rap, 'Comeback King'". Ellensburg Daily Record. November 10, 1950. p. 3. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- "This Day in Philly Sports History: A Demented Fan and the Natural". PhillySportsHistory.com. June 14, 2011. Retrieved July 22, 2012.