Eddie could have made it all the way home (if he hadn’t been shot).Posted: April 12, 2011
Good news, racists! We’re back to the white dudes today. And what better way to celebrate whiteness than by focusing on a pre-Jackie Robinson baseball player whose life was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford in period clothing?
Who could the scandalous man be? Joe DiMaggio? He boned Marilyn! He’s pretty scandalous! Babe Ruth? He banged all kinds of ladies! I know, I saw the John Goodman made-for-television special!
No. Ladies and gentlemen, your sexy, scandalous, roid-crunching (just kidding, it was the 1940s) mystery man is….EDDIE WAITKUS!
I know what you’re thinking. Who the fuck was Eddie Waitkus? WELL I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED. (Before we go any further I feel compelled to warn you that I am a biased observer because Eddie was involved in a lot of stuff that keeps me going when the going gets shitty. And those things are the Philadelphia Phillies, baseball movies, and Robert Redford.)
Young Eddie Waitkus was the son of Lithuanian immigrants and grew up in Depression-era Boston. He was real fucking smart, well-educated for a poor Southie kid, and spoke several languages. If you consider “mathematics” a foreign language (and I do, I sure do), this sort of sounds like the plot of Good Will Hunting.
Anyway, Eddie fucking loved baseball, as every red-blooded American man (specifically those who want to date me) should. He turned down scholarships to Harvard and Holy Cross to break into the minors when he was 19 in 1938. And then WHOOPSIES, World War II started in 1939, everybody went overseas, and Geena Davis and company took over on the diamond. Eddie ended up in the Philippines, where he saw a lot of action (as in war-action, not lady-action) (although he probably also saw a little bit of lady-action too). By the end of the war he’d acquired four Bronze Stars, and when he came back to the good old U.S. of A., he was drafted by the Cubs for the 1946 season and quickly became a star first baseman. And everyone loved him because he was really articulate and just an all-around good fucking dude.
But you know who REALLY loved him? Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a young lady from Chicago. Now most of the Ruths that LHB, JAF, and I come in contact with are demi-goddesses. But this Ruth was absolutely not one of those.
She was, however, a huge baseball fan. She went to a lot of games during the 1947 and 1948 seasons, and she had a little crush on Eddie, who was becoming one of the team’s stars. Now ladies. It’s time to be real for a second here. We’ve all thought about what it would be like to date a professional athlete. I’m partial to the baseball players namely because of the romance and nostalgia of America’s pastime and because of the tight pants. I’m sure you’ve got your athletic preferences too. But let me ask you something: have you ever built a shrine to a player because you love him so much? Do you spend time worshipping at that shrine when your team is on the road because you just can’t NOT look at the face of your lover-in-your-head?
I know you don’t do those things. But ol’ Ruth Ann did! And she would spend hours reading all of the newspaper articles that had ever been written about Eddie. She took classes so she could learn to speak Lithuanian like he did. AND SHE WOULD SET A PLACE FOR HIM AT THE DINNER TABLE EVERY NIGHT. Later, Ruth recalled that she “just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy.” Yes.
So needless to say, young Ruthie was a bit put out (baseball pun INTENDED) when Eddie was traded to the Phillies (or Sillies, as my dad and I have been calling them since the early 90s) following the 1948 season. Prior to the trade, Ruth had quit her job and had taken to walking around the city looking for her (imagined) main squeeze, so you can imagine what kinds of crazy shit she was getting herself into in the name of Eddie Waitkus until that June, when the Phillies came to Wrigley Field for a three-game set. It was Eddie’s first time in Chicago since the trade, and Ruth had plans.
On June 14, after the first game in the series, Eddie and his road roommate headed back to their room in the Edgewater Beach Hotel on Lake Shore Drive and then went out for a little grub, shot the shit, probs got some numbers, the usual. Meanwhile, Ruth was lounging somewhere in the same hotel – she had booked a room there as soon as she found out that’s where the Phillies and her beloved Eddie would be staying. She invited her best girlfriend, Helen, up to tell her a little secret:
RAS: Helen, I have to tell you something.
H: Shoot, girlfriend!!!
RAS: Funny you should say shoot…I have a gun in this room and I’m going to shoot Eddie Waitkus tonight!
H: Haha Ruth you’re so funny can we order a movie and get some chicken fingers from room service?
Helen didn’t believe Ruth (forreal Helen? She fucking made dinner for him every night!) and left shortly after the movie ended. Then Ruth called a bellhop up to her room, instructed him to deliver a note to Mr. Waitkus, and slipped him a fivespot to keep that shit discreet.
What did the note say, you might ask?
“Mr. Waitkus – 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.”
So Eddie rolled into his hotel room around 11 and his roomie was like “Bro, mail for you from some bitch named Ruth in 1297.” AND EDDIE HAD BEEN DATING A GIRL NAMED RUTH! They would meet from time to time for booty calls when he was in the Midwest, and Eddie saw this note and was probably like “Oh OKAY!” and ran up to Crazy Ruth’s room thinking he was going to get some awesome role-playing ass.
And he did get some. He got some bullet in his chest.
When he got to room 1297, a woman answered and identified herself as Ruth’s friend, then went into the bathroom. Eddie, probably thrilled and thinking that Ruth’s friend also wanted to play, went and sat on the bed. At which point Crazy Ruth pulled a .22 out of a closet, said “If I can’t have you, nobody else can,” and shot him right under his heart! And then bitch called the front desk and said “Uhh, I just shot someone.” Eddie’s right lung collapsed and a bunch of other shit got messed up too, and the irony of the situation is that had Crazy Ruth not called immediately after he shot him, he probably would have died. Psycho stalker with a heart of gold, she was.
Ruth confessed in court that she’d also brought a knife to the hotel and had meant to stab Eddie and then shoot herself with the rifle, but she got “confused.” Later she was found legally insane, given electric shock treatments, declared sane, and released in 19fucking52, less than four years after she tried to kill someone. And oh yeah, the murder charges were dropped. Whatevs!
Eddie, meanwhile, almost died several times on the operating table but survived and recovered enough to suit up for a game in August of 1949, a year and two months after the incident. Evidence suggests that he was a fucking android. The Philles showered him with gifts when he made his comeback at “Eddie Waitkus Night,” and the Associated Press named him Comeback Player of the Year, because incidentally no one else HAD BEEN SHOT AND RETURNED TO PLAY A YEAR LATER in 1950.
He would go on to be a pretty good player, making the All-Star team twice and remaining a media darling. But he would be plagued by post-traumatic-stress disorder for the rest of his life as a result of the incident. Ruth and Eddie never saw each other again, and his only public comment about her was, “She had the coldest-looking face that I ever saw.”
Today, the Eddie Waitkus Incident is considered the first truly sensational stalker crime in
American history. And most people know about it from Bernard Malamud’s just okay 1952 novel and the fucking transcendent and beautiful 1984 film The Natural directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford. Let me tell you something about this movie. LHB can attest to the fact that I don’t cry, ever (except for when it’s Christmas and Heathrow won’t let me come home). But you heard it here first: the scene in The Natural where Roy shatters the lights in the stadium and jogs in slow motion around the bases with the swelling music playing…HOLY SHIT. Holy shit. I’m tearing up now just thinking about it.
So Eddie Waitkus, honored in literature and on the silver screen, one of baseball’s greatest comeback stories, and just a genuinely good human being, was shot by a crazy bitch because he thought he was going to get some. And all because he got traded to Philadelphia. Listen, Boston: I get it, but we’ve got our curses too.