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       October 22, 2011 3:05 PM

 A Grand-Slam Obsession


The first time Ruth Ann Steinhagen laid eyes on Eddie Waitkus she fell in love with him. In 1946, sixteen-year old Ruth Ann began going to Chicago Cubs games with friends. Eddie was the Cubs first-baseman. [Photo right]

After collecting hundreds of newspaper pictures and articles, she built a shrine to him in her bedroom and often set an extra place at the dinner table for him.

When Eddie was traded to the Phillies in 1948, she cried and said she didn't want to live. Annoyed that her parents sent her to a psychiatrist, 19-year-old Ruth Ann got her own apartment. Knowing the Phillies were set to play the Cubs in Chicago in June 1949, she decided it was time to meet Eddie and ask for a date.

Using the name Ruth Ann Burns, she reserved a room at the hotel where the Phillies would be staying. She also went to a pawnshop and bought a .22 caliber rifle.

On June 13, she invited a girl friend to her room. In the course of conversation Ruth Ann said she had a gun and was going to kill Eddie Waitkus. Her friend didn't take it seriously and didn't tell anyone about it.


On June 14, Ruth Ann went to Wrigley Field and watched the Phillies beat the Cubs. After the game she returned to her hotel room and ordered two whiskey sours and a Daiquiri from room service. When the drinks arrived she gave the bellboy five dollars to deliver a note to Eddie.

The note said: "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.”

After their victory, Eddie and his roommate Russ Meyer went out for dinner and returned to the hotel around 11 PM. Eddie went to buy a newspaper. Meyer went to their room and found a note from Ruth Ann Burns addressed to Eddie.

Coincidentally, Eddie had dated a woman named Ruth Martin, and the two sometimes met when he was on the road. When Eddie came up to their room, Meyer told him Ruth was waiting for him in Room 1297.

Eddie went to the room and knocked on the door. A tall attractive brunette opened the door and said she was a friend of Ruth who had just left for a moment. In fact, Ruth Martin was not in the hotel and had never met Ruth Ann, but to Eddie it seemed normal enough.

He walked in and sat down. Ruth Ann said she had a surprise for him. She went to a closet, grabbed the .22 rifle and said, "You’re not going to bother me any more.” As he rose from the chair, she shot him, saying, "If I can’t have you, nobody else can.”

Eddie fell to the floor. Ruth Ann called the front desk and said she had just shot a man. Had she not alerted the authorities, Eddie would have bled to death. When police arrived Ruth Ann was holding his hand. She told police she also had a knife and had planned to use it to kill Eddie and then shoot herself with the rifle, but became confused. 

Eddie was taken to a hospital. The .22 caliber bullet went through two ribs, pierced his right lung, collapsing it, traveled through two back ribs and lodged in muscle tissue near his spine.

Doctors said any other caliber bullet would have killed him.

He endured several surgeries because the bullet had caused infection and needed to be removed. After extensive rehab, he was released from the hospital in July.

Meanwhile, Ruth was sitting in jail. She conceded that she might be a bit mixed up, but she loved all the attention she was getting and said: "I've never been so happy in my life."

Eddie was not amused. Upon hearing this, he said: "She seems to think this is a joke, but I don't. She should be taken off the streets, the same as a mad dog. She had the coldest-looking face I ever saw.”

Ruth Ann was tried for attempted murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Sent to a mental institution, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given electric shock therapy.

Born in Cambridge, MA, in 1919, Eddie was a fine student. Offered scholarships to Harvard and Holy Cross, he chose instead to play professional baseball. His major league career began with the Chicago Cubs in 1941. After serving in World War II from 1942 to 1945, the much decorated veteran rejoined the Cubs in 1946 as their first baseman.

Eddie survived the shooting but he was never the same. He suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Once sociable and easygoing, he became reclusive and mistrusting. During the 1950 spring training season in Florida, he met Carol Webel, a lab technician. She lifted his spirits and their relationship continued. Eddie and the 1950 Whiz Kids won the National League Pennant, but Eddie began drinking heavily and had trouble sleeping.

After the Phillies lost the World Series to the Yankees, Eddie went to Boston’s Leahy Clinic. Tests showed he was anemic.  Even so, the Associated Press voted him baseball’s Comeback Player of the year. In 1951 Eddie and Carol were married.

In 1952, less than 3 years after the shooting, Ruth Ann was judged sane and released. The charge of assault with intent to kill was dropped, because Eddie didn't want her to be prosecuted.

UPDATE: In 1970, she moved into a small house in Chicago with her parents and sister and outlived them all. After a reclusive existence, Ruth Ann Steinhagen died at age 83, on December 29, 2012. No one noticed. A reporter researching another article stumbled upon her death notice in March 2013. Cause of death was a subdural hematoma sustained in a fall. She left no survivors.       

Eddie didn't play much in 1953, began drinking heavily and was traded to Baltimore in 1954. In 1955 the Orioles released him and he signed with the Phillies again. In September 1955, he played his last game, but went out with class by hitting a home run. At the age of 36, Eddie's baseball career was over. Due to his alcoholism, he and Carol eventually divorced. He lived near Boston until his death in 1972 at the age of 53.

Eddie wasn't the only baseball player shot by an obsessed woman. In 1932, Billy Jurges, a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, was shot by a former girlfriend. Coincidentally, both Eddie and Billy played with the Cubs as infielders, both shootings occurred in Chicago hotels, and both men survived to play again.

In 1984, Robert Redford starred in "The Natural” based on Bernard Malamud’s novel of the same name, which was inspired by the shooting of Eddie Waitkus.

For more details on this and other cases, see DARK DEEDS, Volume 1   http://susanfleet.com/darkdeeds-v1.html#.UubLSrQo4dU

Sources: Time Magazine, "Silly Honey," June 27, 1949

Olde-Tyme baseball by C. Philip Francis, September 15, 2005 Baseball’s Natural: the Story of Eddie Waitkus, John Theodore

Like Monica Seles, Eddie won fame in sports but paid dearly for it. Like Monica, Eddie suffered severe post-traumatic stress. He became an alcoholic, which cost him his career and his marriage. Eddie played at a time when ballplayers made far less money than today, and his shooting occurred not on the field but in a hotel room. Today's athletes can afford personal protection, and it's unlikely they would succumb to Ruth Ann's ruse.   

I await your thoughts on this case. Should Ruth Ann have been treated so leniently? Have you seen The Natural or read the Malamud book? Please leave a comment!

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[ Posted by Clarbojahn, October 23, 2011 5:02 PM ]
     This was an interesting and informative post. I think a diagnosis of Schizophrenia and especially if there is a violence from it the patient isn't allowed out on the streets after that. Medicine has evolved but the criminally insane stay behind bars.

[ Posted by Art Smukler, October 23, 2011 5:14 PM ]
     Fascinating and extremely well written. Everyone wants love, but here's a great example when it crosses the line into psychosis.

[ Posted by Sandra McLeod Humphrey, October 23, 2011 5:49 PM ]
     I don't think she should have been treated so leniently and, since she was schizophrenic, I hope someone was following her very closely to be sure she was taking her prescribed psychotropic medication.

[ Posted by Bonnie Gail Carter, October 29, 2011 9:47 PM ]
     I think that they were lenient with her. Now I think that after she was stablyzed on medication she would have been sent to prison.

[ Posted by Shawn Tighe, July 12, 2012 10:13 AM ]
     The Natural is a great movie, I think if this happened today she would be put in a mental hospital for the rest of her life, if she was found insane. I really dont think she was insane, I don't know how she could have been let off so easy. She could have killed the guy. it makes me sick.

[ Posted by admin, July 12, 2012 6:24 PM ]
     Hi Shawn, Thanks for your comment. Yes, things are quite different today. I don't know what her true mental state was, but she was clearly dangerous. Eddie was lucky to survive.

[ Posted by Craig Faris, September 24, 2012 8:54 AM ]
     I came upon the story of Ruth Steinhagen and Eddie Waitkus completely by accident. I read it on a faded brown newspaper article glued to ceiling of an abandoned house in Catawba. It oddest thing is, I found it on September 16, 1972. For years I tried to find more information but most of the article had crumbled to dust. In 2004 I wrote a short story based on this mystery called House of Ruth, which as since won numerous literary awards. Shortlisted in the Wlm Faulkner Pirates Alley and 4th place in the 80th annual Writers Digest competition (11,800 total entries). A film agent at CAA in Hollywood is currently considering it for a film option.

[ Posted by admin, September 24, 2012 10:26 AM ]
     Thanks for the comment, Craig, and congratulations on the awards for your short story. This true life mystery is indeed a fascinating tale. As I'm sure you know, it was the inspiration for The Natural, starring Robert Redford.

FYI, I lived in New Orleans for many years and have attended the conference Words & Music which sponsors the Faulkner Pirates Alley Award.

posted by SUSAN FLEET   October 22, 2011 3:05 PM  Stalkers 


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