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Eddie Waitkus: Wikis

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Eddie Waitkus
First baseman
Born: September 4, 1919(1919-09-04)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Died: September 16, 1972 (aged 53)
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Batted: Left Threw: Left 
MLB debut
April 15, 1941 for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
September 20, 1955 for the Philadelphia Phillies
Career statistics
Batting average     .285
Runs batted in     373
Hits     1214
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Edward Stephen Waitkus (September 4, 1919 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – September 16, 1972 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts) was an American first baseman in Major League Baseball who had an 11-year career (1941, 1946-1955). He played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in the National League and for the Baltimore Orioles of the American League. He was elected to the National League All-Star team twice (1948 and 1949).

Contents

Biography

Eddie Waitkus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, grew up in Boston. Eddie began his pro career in 1938 playing for the Worumbo Indians, a semi-pro team sponsored by Worumbo Woolen Mill in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He saw some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II with the U.S. Army in the Philippines, earning four Bronze Stars. Upon his return to baseball he quickly became a star for the Chicago Cubs. He also became a popular media figure, as he was well-educated and could speak several languages.

Just a few years into the start of what seemed a very promising career, Waitkus was shot in the chest by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, an obsessed fan, on June 14, 1949, at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Steinhagen had become infatuated with him when he was a Cub, but seeing him every day in-season apparently kept her obsession in check. Once he was traded to the Phillies and would only be in Chicago 11 games in the season, her obsession grew to dangerous proportions. She checked into the hotel using the alias of a former high school classmate of his, and left a note at the desk asking him to come to her hotel room on an urgent matter. She then shot him with a rifle, the bullet barely missing his heart. He nearly died several times on the operating table before the bullet was successfully removed. Steinhagen never stood trial, but instead was confined to a mental institution. Steinhagen's obsession and stalking was covered at length in one of the Fireside Book of Baseball entries.

On the night of August 19, 1949, the Phillies held "Eddie Waitkus Night" at Shibe Park and showered Waitkus with gifts. Waitkus was in uniform for the first time since he was shot in Chicago. After the 1950 season, Waitkus was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.[1]

The Natural

Author Bernard Malamud, who was not a baseball fan himself, took the basic elements of the Waitkus story and wove them along with various baseball legends (notably Joe Jackson), into a novel, a morality tale called The Natural. The book was released in 1952, and was eventually made into a film that was released in 1984.

The DVD extras for the film contain a biography of Waitkus, which points out that writers in his rookie year often called Waitkus "a natural", a fact which Malamud presumably picked up on. Malamud's version of the tale ended tragically, and unknowingly foreshadowed Waitkus' own downfall as a player.

The DVD biography makes the point that Waitkus essentially suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his shooting, which ultimately affected both his career and his marriage. He went through some rough times and died at a relatively young age from esophageal cancer. But his final years were satisfying to him, as he became an instructor for Ted Williams' baseball camp, an activity he enjoyed and which he continued almost to the end of his life.

In popular culture

On the TV drama Beverly Hills, 90210, seven years after Dylan McKay's father Jack is killed in a car bomb, it is revealed that he's alive in the Witness Protection Program under the alias Eddie Waitkus.

References

  • DVD extras for the film, The Natural, the DVD version released in 2006.

External links

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