Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 18, 2013

Obsessed fan who shot player, inspired movie, dies

CHICAGO — She inspired a novel and a movie starring Robert Redford when in 1949 she lured a major league ballplayer she'd never met into a hotel room with a cryptic note and shot him, nearly killing him.

After the headlines faded, Ruth Ann Steinhagen did something else just as surprising: She disappeared into obscurity, living a quiet life unnoticed in Chicago until now, more than a half century later, when news broke that she had died three months earlier.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Friday that Steinhagen passed away of natural causes on Dec. 29, at the age of 83. First reported by the Chicago Tribune last week, her identity was a surprise even to the morgue employees who knew about the 1984 movie "The Natural," in which she was portrayed by actress Barbara Hershey.

"She chose to live in the shadows and she did a good job of it," John Theodore, an author who wrote a 2002 nonfiction book about the crime, wrote in an email Sunday.

The story, with its elements of obsession, mystery, insanity and a baseball star, made it part of both Chicago's colorful crime history and rich baseball lore.

The story began with what appeared to be just another young woman's crush on Eddie Waitkus, the Chicago Cubs' handsome first baseman. So complete was this crush that the teenager set a place for Waitkus, whom she'd never met, at the family dinner table. She turned her bedroom into a shrine to him, and put his photo under her pillow.

After the 1948 season, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies — a fateful turn. "When he went to the Phillies, that's when she decided to kill him," Theodore said in an interview.

Steinhagen had her chance the next season, when the Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. She checked into a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel where he was staying and invited him to her room.

"We're not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about," she wrote in a note to him after a game at Wrigley on June 14, 1949.

It worked. Waitkus arrived at her room. After he sat down, Steinhagen walked to a closet, said, "I have a surprise for you," then turned with the rifle she had hidden there and shot him in the chest. Theodore wrote that she then knelt by his side and held his hand on her lap. She told a psychiatrist afterward about how she had dreamed of killing him and found it strange that she was now "holding him in my arms."

Newspapers devoured and trumpeted the lurid story of a 19-year-old baseball groupie, known in the parlance of the day as a "Baseball Annie." Among the sensational and probably staged photos was one showing Steinhagen writing in her journal at a table in her jail cell with a framed photograph of Waitkus propped nearby.

A judge determined she was insane and committed her to a mental hospital. She was released three years later, after doctors determined she had regained her sanity.

Details about the rest of her life are sketchy. She lived with her sister in a house just a few miles from the hotel where she shot Waitkus. A neighbor told Theodore that Steinhagen said she worked in an office for 35 years but never revealed her employer. And she made an effort to conceal her privacy, often refusing to answer the phone or come to the door when Theodore knocked.

Chris Gentner, a neighbor who used to help the Steinhagen sisters with chores, said he only found out who she was 15 years after they began living nearby.

"I found out through my ex-wife — I'm not sure how she found out — and I looked (Steinhagen) up online. And as soon as I saw (her photograph) online I said, 'That's her,'" Gentner said.

The 1984 movie was based on a novel by Bernard Malamud that was inspired by the story. Theodore's 2002 book was entitled "Baseball's Natural: The story of Eddie Waitkus."

Waitkus, who played the season after he was shot, helping the Phillies win the National League pennant, decided not to press charges in 1952 when Steinhagen was deemed sane. The trial would have likely made banner headlines — particularly since Malamud's novel was released in 1952 — so Watikus' decision almost certainly assisted Steinhagen's disappearance into obscurity.

He died in 1972, 12 years before Redford portrayed Roy Hobbs, the character inspired by Waitkus.

"He hardly ever talked to his family about Ruth," Theodore said.

 

1
Text Only
Local Sports
  • Genuine throwback

    Todd Eastham is disproving the old cliche, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

    July 23, 2014

  • MARK MAYNARD: Looking for those who inspire

    Inspirtation, they say, comes from within. It is defined as an inspiring or animating action or influence.

    July 22, 2014

  • 0722KYPGA_152.jpg Jones tops Gillum in playoff at Eagle Trace

    Ashland senior golfer Logan Jones didn't shoot his average Monday.
    He didn't mind.
    His three-over par 75 and one-hole playoff win over Elliott County junior Ryan Gillum gave him the Boys Open division title in the Kentucky PGA Junior Tour stop at Morehead State University's Eagle Trace Golf Course.

    July 21, 2014 6 Photos

  • 102213_329a.jpg Raceland tabs Clark as new girls basketball coach

    Jason Clark has a reputation of being — to use his word — “passionate” on the Raceland volleyball sideline.
    He plans to bring that same approach as the Lady Rams’ new basketball coach.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0305region2_389.jpg Pass the Mayo: East sophomore PG, Lady Raiders preparing for winter run

    East Carter sophomore point guard Kristen Mayo has played basketball for as long as she can remember.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0718spinda.jpg Steelers super fan Spinda to be recognized in Florida

    Shawn Spinda doesn’t have to use speech to profess his passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    All it takes is a quick glance for a person to get the picture.
    But to absorb the whole picture, you’ll need to clear your schedule.
    Spinda is one of several fanatics who will be recognized at the Sports Fans Conference in Orlando, Florida, which is set for Aug. 28-Sept. 1 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. He is a “What a Fan” NFL Fan of the Year nominee.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0703rfLL0204.jpg Little League State Baseball: Ready to run

    Morehead 11- and 12-year-old All-Star baseball manager Toby Gardner collectively likened his team to a racehorse.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0717prokick1.jpg Prokicker.com camp Eleven Ashland Tomcat football players were part of the Ray Guy Prokicker.com camp at Huntington High. The high-profile camps are put on all over the country. Rick Sang, an Ashland native who befriended Guy 20 years ago, is the camp's founder.

    July 16, 2014

  • 0716fbpractice0105.jpg Four-down territory: Making summer football practice pit stops

    ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?
    The popular Monday night catchphrase filled my room on Tuesday morning as my new alarm sounded off at 7 a.m.

    July 16, 2014 5 Photos

  • 0716softball.jpg KHSAA pushes presence of masks

    Fairview’s Sydney Ekers and Lewis County’s Kelsey Rizzo didn’t wear masks to play softball until after they were struck in the face by line drives.
    The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has made a recommendation that it hopes will reduce such instances.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo