The Eddie Waitkus Affair
“She had the coldest-looking face I ever saw.” – Eddie Waitkus, baseball player
Olde-Tyme baseball by C. Philip Francis – September 15, 2005
The 1984 movie “The Natural” with Robert Redford is one of the better baseball movies made. It is based on Bernard Malamud’s offbeat novel of the same name when. 38-year-old Roy Hobbs breaks into baseball as a rookie with a passion, hits gigantic home runs, and transforms a last place team into a winner. The story was inspirited by the shooting of Eddie Waitkus, a 29-year-old baseball player for the Philadelphia Phillies, when a deranged woman invited him into her hotel room for the purpose of murder.
Eddie, however, was the second major league baseball player ever to be shot by a fan as you may remember a recent Chatter from the Dugout column that described on how Billy Jurges, a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, was shot by a young lady who wanted more than just a casual companionship. While Jurges knew his assailant, Waitkus was shot by an unknown stalker who for several years had become overly infatuated with him from afar. Coincidentally Waitkus and Jurges were infielders, were either Chicago Cubs or had played with the Cubs, the two shootings occurred in Chicago hotels, and they both survived to play again.
At first Ruth Ann Steinhagen was a happy child, but changed in many ways during adolescence. She did not want people to look at her, and became fearful that she would become the center of attention. At age 16 Ruth Ann and a girl friend along with the latter’s boy friend started to attend Cub games. Ruth Ann began to closely follow the life of Eddie Waitkus, at that time Chicago’s first-baseman, collected hundreds newspaper pictures and articles on the ballplayer, built a shrine to him in her bedroom, and became captivated with anything connected with Eddie including his uniform number of 36. She later said, “I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy.” When she learned that Waitkus was from Lithuanian descent, Ruth Ann even began to take classes on how to speak the language.
In November of 1948 Ruth Ann suddenly left her job, and began to wander throughout the city hoping to find Waitkus. The young lady’s parents referred her to a psychiatrist, but little changed. When Eddie was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on December 14, 1948 Ruth Ann cried, and said that she did not want to live. Then when the Phillies were scheduled to Chicago in June, Ruth Ann decided it was time to see Eddie in person and ask for a date.
On May 10, 1949 Ruth Ann, now a six-foot, attractive 19-year-old brunette, made reservations for June 13 and 14 under the assumed name of Ruth Ann Burns at the Edgewater Beach Hotel located on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive where the Phillies would also would be staying. The first night at the hotel, Ruth Ann invited a girl friend named Helen Farazis up to her room. While they were talking Ruth Ann mentioned that she had a gun and was going to kill Eddie Waitkus. Helen did not take it seriously, and did not tell anyone else.
The following day Ruth Ann went to Wrigley Field where she saw the Phillies beat the Cubs 9-2. After the game she returned to her hotel room, and later ordered three drinks from room service. When they came she gave the bellboy five dollars and a message to be delivered to Eddie that 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.”
Following their Philadelphia victory, Waitkus and his roommate, Russ “Monk” Meyer, went out for dinner, and returned to the hotel about 11. As they entered the hotel Waitkus went to buy a newspaper while Meyer started up to their room where he found the note from Ruth Ann Burns addressed to Waitkus. Surprisingly, Eddie had been dating a lady named Ruth Martin, and the two would occasionally meet when he was on the road. As Eddie walked into their room Meyer said that Ruth was waiting for him at room 1297.
After Waitkus knocked the door at room 1297 a lady opened to say that she was a friend of Ruth who had just left for a moment although in reality, Ruth Martin was not in the hotel and had never met Ruth Ann Steinhagen. To Eddie it all seemed so normal, but as he walked in and sat down Ruth Ann went to a closet, grabbed a .22 rifle, turned, and shot the ballplayer in the stomach saying, “If I can’t have you, nobody else can.” The bullet went under the heart, and lodged in the muscles near the spine as the right lung collapsed. Ruth Ann immediately called the front desk, and said that she had just shot a man. If she had not quickly called the hotel authorities he would have bled to death.
Miss Steinhagen was arrested and sent to the Behavior Clinic on an order by a Felony Court. She told the police that she also had a knife and was going to use it to kill Eddie and then shoot herself with the rifle, but became confused. A jury found her legally insane, and committed to a mental hospital where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in an immature individual. She was given shock treatments, and on April 17, 1952, less than three years after the shooting, Ruth Ann was declared sane and released. The charge of assault with intent to kill was dropped.
Edward “Eddie” Stephen Waitkus was born in Cambridge, MA on September 4, 1919. He was a fine student and even offered scholarships to Harvard and Holy Cross, but chose professional baseball. His 11-year major league career started with the Chicago Cubs in 1941 as a first baseman when he appeared in 19 games hitting .179.
He was in the military for much of the years from 1942 to 1945 before returning to the Cubs in 1946 where he became the regular first baseman.
Not only did Waitkus survive the shooting, he returned to the game in the following year when he played in all of the 154 games. Eddie was one of the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids who won the National Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Yankees 4 games to 0. He retired from baseball after the 1955 season with a batting average of .285, and died of cancer on September 15, 1972 at the age of 53.
Eddie and Ruth Ann never saw each other again, and he said of Ruth Ann, “She had the coldest-looking face that I ever saw.”