Baseball Shorts: The Inspiration for “The Natural”

It has been a while but today we pay attention to the occurrence that was the inspiration for the novel (and later the movie) “The Natural.”

We all know the baseball movie “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs. In the movie, Hobbs is shot by a lady shortly before he joins his MLB team, he signed a contract with.

This scene was inspired by something that is called stalker crime nowadays.

On This Day In Sports: June 14, 1949: Eddie Waitkus Gunned Down By a  Mentally Unstable Fan

Phillies star first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot and nearly killed by Ruth Ann Steinhagen. Steinhagen got obsessed with Waitkus after she had seen him play with the Cubs in 1946. Other sources say she saw him for the first time in 1947 so let’s say it was shortly after WWII.

Her obsession with Waitkus made he create a shrine in he mother’s house with photos of the ballplayer and newspaper clippings. But it got even further. With dinner, she always put an extra plate at the table for Waitkus. She developed a taste for baked beans as Waitkus was from the Boston area. Since he had Lituanian roots, Steinhagen also studied the Lithuanian language for a while.

She told her doctors, after the incident, “I used to go to all the ball games to watch him. We used to wait for them to come out of the clubhouse after the game, and all the time I was watching I was building in my mind that idea of killing him.” In 1948, Steinhagen’s family sent her to a psychiatrist, but her obsession didn’t diminish, even after Waitkus was traded to Philadelphia.

When the Phillies visited Chicago, Steinhagen was in the same hotel as the Phillies were. She tricked Waitkus to come to her room with a handwritten note. According to his roommate, Waitkus tried to settle the contact by phone, but Steinhagen insisted he would come to her room as she didn’t want to discuss the “important” matter over the phone.

When Waitkus eventually entered her room, Steinhagen took a .22 rifle from her closet and shot him in the chest. In contrast to the movie, Steinhagen called the the front desk of the hotel and told them she shot him. This call brought quick medical relief which saved his life.

There are two stories about Steinhagen after she made the phone call to the front desk. One is that she sat on a bench near the elevator, where she waited for the first responders to arrive. Another story tells she laid Waitkus’ head on her lap until help arrived.

After the Chief Judge t of the Criminal Court of Cook County directed the jury to find her insane due to several tests by a court-appointed psychiatrist, Steinhagen was sent to Kankakee State Hospital where she was confined and treated at the institution until 1952, when she was declared cured and released. Waitkus did not press charges against Steinhagen after she was released, telling an assistant state’s attorney that he wanted to forget the incident.

After her release, Steinhagen went home to her parents and lived her live in anonymity. She refused to answer questions and avoided reporters for the remainder of her life.

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