Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Rerun: It's Only Natural

Those movie people, man, I wanna tell you.  They take a story from real life and turn it into!

You might have seen that movie "The Natural," starring Robert Redford.  Baseball guy goes to girl's hotel room and she plugs him a good one right in the belly, see?  But then the kid comes back, see?  And hits a ton o' homers, see?

It was all LOOSELY based on a real story.  Eddie Waitkus was the name of the first baseman, and he looked like the young Redford like I look like any two members of 1 Direction.  But he played for the Cubs in postwar Chicago and a teenager named Ruth Ann Steinhagen had the hots for him.

It happens.

She was fine swooning over him from the stands at Historic Wrigley Field, but when Waitkus was traded to the Phillies after the 1948 season, she wasn't about to commute to Philadelphia to see him play.

So she decided to shoot him.

When the Phillies came to Chi to play the Cubs in June of '49, she got a room in their team hotel and sent Waitkus a note, saying that she was in the Edgewater Beach Hotel and had something to discuss with him.

As you might imagine, Eddie about broke his neck to get to her room and see what was up.  So to speak.

She leveled a rifle at him and fired, striking him in the chest. But he refused to press charges, citing both the 2nd and 5th Amendments.  Waitkus then joined the list of World War II veterans who came home from the war unscathed, only to be shot in his own country.

Waitkus flashes the high sign to an anxious nation
Adjudged insane, Ruth Ann Steinhagen was confined to a mental institution for three years, released in time for the 1952 season.  But she stayed "in the shadows" until she passed away this past December.  So deep in the shadows was she, according to John Theodore, who wrote a book about the subject in 2002, that no one around her seemed to know why she was once so notorious. There's nothing anywhere about her having a job, family, marriage, anything.

Waitkus returned to play six more big-league seasons,although he was never the great player that his cinematic alter ego Roy Hobbs was, died in 1972, and to his dying day, was wary about visiting strangers in hotel rooms, we may rest assured.  Ruth Ann Steinhagen's parents took her in, and they survived into the 1990s. Even the Cook County Coroner, who confirmed Ruth Ann's death, had no idea in December until a reporter dug up her background last week. 

How a person once so famous can learn to hide in a house, and how the entire community can forget why she was so infamous, are fascinating topics to think about. It would never happen today. Between TMZ and reality shows, she would be a fixture on television nightly. Hell, she might even have her own show on FOX News.

In the old wire-service picture at right, RA is seen in an institution, apparently writing to her idol while gazing lovingly at his graven image. This sort of  staged photography used to pass for journalism.

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