Simply Baseball Notebook's Forgotten In Time

Eddie Waitkus

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waitkus-52t.jpg

Chicago Cubs 1941, 46-48
Philadelphia Phillies 1949-53, 55
Baltimore Orioles 1954-55

When Eddie Waitkus woke up on June 14, 1949, there was no way he could have forseen how significantly his life was about to change.  The Phillies first baseman was in Chicago playing his former team the Cubs, and off to the best start of his career.  It seemed as if life couldn't get any better for Eddie Waitkus, but fate was about to intervene.

Edward Stephen Waitkus was born on September 4, 1919 in Cambridge, MA.  An excellent student athlete, he was offered scholarships to Harvard and Holy Cross, but passed them up to play professional baseball.

Waitkus made his major league debut in 1941 with the Chicago Cubs.  Although he played in just 12 games before entering the army, Waitkus managed to catch the eye of 11 year old Ruth Ann Steinhagen.

After a decorated military career that included four Battle Stars, Waitkus rejoined the Cubs in 1946 and hit .304 in 113 games.  Over the next two seasons, unbeknownst to Waitkus, young Ruth Ann Steinhagen watched him with special interest.

According to her mother, the teenager attended several games and spent hours combing over the hundreds of pictures and newspaper clippings that she had collected of Waitkus.  Meanwhile Waitkus continued his successful career hitting .292 and .295 from 1947-48 and appearing in the 1948 All Star game.

In December of 1948, Ruth Ann's world was shaken when the object of her obsession was dealt to Philadelphia.  The 18 year old reportedly cried "night and day" when she heard of the trade.  Waitkus, however, adapted quickly to his new surroundings in 1949, hitting .306 after 54 games and was leading all NL first sackers in the All Star balloting.

Following the Phillies 9-2 victory over the Cubs on June 14, Waitkus joined the parents and fiancÚ of his roommate, Russ "Monk" Meyer, for dinner.  When the group returned to the hotel around 11 pm, Meyer headed up to his parent's room and Waitkus went to the lobby to buy a newspaper.

When Meyer returned to their hotel room about 45 minutes later, he found a note addressed to Waitkus from a "Ruth Ann Burns."  Ironically, Waitkus had been a dating a Ruth Ann who had been known to join him on the road from time to time.

A few minutes later, Waitkus returned to the room and was told by Meyer that Ruth Ann was at the hotel in room #1297.  A surprised Waitkus headed up to the room to see his girlfriend, when he arrived a strange woman identifying herself as a friend of Ruth Ann's answered the door. This mystery women told Waitkus that Ruth Ann had stepped out for a second and invited him in.

The story seemed believable, so Waitkus entered the room and sat down in a chair.  The woman then went to the closet, pulled out a 22 caliber rifle, shot Waitkus in the chest, and told him that if she couldn't have him, nobody could.  She then called the front desk, told them that she shot Eddie Waitkus and left.  If not for that call, he would have likely bled to death.

The woman was later identified as 19 year old Ruth Ann Steinhagen, an attractive, 6 foot tall brunette.  After Waitkus identified her as the shooter from his hospital bed, Steinhagen was charged with the shooting and arraigned on June 30.

Steinhagen said she "wasn't sure" why she shot Waitkus, and said "I'm not really sorry, 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."

A criminal jury found her legally insane, and Steinhagen was committed to a mental institution.  After receiving shock treatments, she was declared sane and released on April 17, 1952 -- less than three years after the shooting.

Meanwhile, Waitkus received four operations before heading to Clearwater, FL for rehab.  Amazingly, he returned for the 1950 season and helped the Phillies win the NL pennant, hitting .284 while scoring 102 runs.

Waitkus remained in Philadelphia until 1954 when he was dealt to Baltimore. He played there for a season and a half, before finishing his career as a Phillie in 1955.  For his career, Waitkus hit .285 with 1214 hits and was selected to two All Star Games.

By all accounts, Waitkus was never the same following the shooting.  The once sociable, easygoing first baseman became reclusive and mistrusting.  Following his playing days he was treated for alcoholism and worked at Ted Williams' baseball camps in the summer.  He lived quietly near Boston until his  death in 1972 at age 53.

-David Zingler, June 2003

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