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When The Natural (starring Robert Redford) was released in 1984 I went to see it with my best friend. I liked baseball and I liked Robert Redford. While I may have been aware that it was based on a book (“The Natural” written in 1952 by Bernard Malamud), since a lot of movies are, I was not aware there was a real life inspiration for the character of “Roy Hobbs”.
Eddie Waitkus was a first baseman for the Cubs, he was known for his slick footwork on the field and the ability to catch almost any ball thrown to him. His baseball career was interrupted by WWII, following the war he became one of the most popular players of the time. He lead the Cubs in hitting and was one of the best first basemen in the National League. However the Cubs traded him to the Phillies in December 1948.
The next June the Phillies were in Chicago, Waitkus was lured to a hotel room by a young woman named Ruth Steinhagen who proceeded to shoot him. She made no attempt to escape and was judged insane and confined to a mental hospital.
In this account we have a brief history of Eddie Waitkus and Ruth Steinhagen, Steinhagen’s is rather sketchy but Theodore reveals at the end of the book he was not able to talk to her or her sister. The bulk of the book is about Waitkus baseball career, how he got started and his recovery after the shooting. Theodore gets his information from interviews with surviving members of Waitkus family, fellow servicemen, teammates, reporters who covered the team and friends of his. There are also excerpts from letters written.
Waitkus suffered from PTSD from the trauma of the shooting and from his years at war, he never got help for this, choosing instead to self-medicate with alcohol which may hastened the end of his baseball career, he suffered physically from the shooting and surgeries to repair the damage. His marriage ended and he was hospitalized with what was diagnosed as a nervous breakdown, after he left the hospital he never got any follow up care. He died in 1972, he was 53. Ruth Steinhagen died last December 2012, she was 83.
I felt this was a well researched and well written book. I found it to be very interesting, I think anyone who enjoys biographies and memoirs would find it interesting, you don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book.