Obit of the Day: The Woman Who Inspired The Natural
On June 14, 1929 Philadelphia Philles first baseman Eddie Waitkus received an unsigned note asking him to a meeting in a 12th-floor room in the Edgewater Hotel, located on Chicago’s far north side, where his team was staying. Mr. Waitkus entered the room and from behind heard a woman say “I have a surprise for you.” He was then shot in the back, with the bullet tearing through his lung and lodging near his spine.
The woman who shot him, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, then contacted the hotel’s front desk and waited until an ambulance and the police arrived. She confessed telling the officers that she “just had to shoot somebody.”
But it wasn’t just “somebody.” Ms. Steinhagen had an unhealthy fixation on Mr. Waitkus for several years beginning when he played for the Chicago Cubs in 1946. Ms. Steinhagen not only had a “shrine” to the ballplayer in her room but would set a place for him at the family dinner table, even though they had never met.
Ms. Steinhagen was charged with what is now defined as “attempted murder,” but she never went to trial. She was sent to Kankakee State Hospital to deal with her mental health issues. When she was released almost three years later in 1952, Mr. Waitkus refused to press charges and prosecutors dropped the case.
The same year that Ms. Steinhagen was released for psychatric care author Bernard Malamud published his novel The Natural which followed the career of pitching prodigy Roy Hobbs. Hobbs’ career was cut short, though, when a woman named Harriet Bird invites him to her hotel room and shoots him*. He based the scene on Ms. Steinhagen and Mr. Waitkus. (In the novel, Roy Hobbs returns to baseball sixteen years later as a hitting star with an mysterious past.)
After her release Ms. Steinhagen lived a quiet and secluded life in Chicago. She would later buy a home with her sister Edith Pietl. Ms. Steinhagen would live there for 40 years. She died on December 29, 2012 at the age of 83 - her death discovered accidentally by a Chicago Tribune reporter who was looking through death records.
Mr. Waitkus, who passed away in 1972, was a two-time All Star before the shooting. He returned for the 1950 season when his Phillies lost in the World Series to the New York Yankees. He would play for five more seasons and retire in 1955. He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for years.
(Image of Ms. Steinhagen sitting in a police wagon on June 14, 1949 following the shooting of Philadelphia first baseman Eddie Waitkus. Copyright of the Chicago Tribune via Softpedia.com)
* In the 1984 film version of The Natural Roy Hobbs was played by Robert Redford and Barbara Hershey played Harriet Bird. (You can watch the complete movie here, the Bird-Hobbs scene is at the 20:00 mark.)
Obit of the Day: The Last of the “Bloomer Girls”
Edith Houghton had an interesting childhood. While the rest of Edith’s friends went to school, did chores around the house, or played with toys she began playing shortstop on the Philadelphia Bobbies, an all-girls professional baseball team. She was ten. (She was so small that she had to pin her hat and her pants to make them fit.)
Ms. Houghton would spend much of her childhood on the diamond playing with various all-girls teams, commonly called “Bloomer Girls.” She would play with the Bobbies for four seasons ending in 1925 with a tour of Japan versus men’s college teams when she was only 13. (Ms. Houghton and her teammates earned $800 a game during the tour.) She moved from Philadelphia to New York after her return from Asia and played six seasons with the New York Bloomer Girls. Her last known professional affiliation was with the Hollywood (CA) Girls in 1931, where she earned $35 a week.
With the Depression most Bloomer Girls teams found it hard to earn enough to continue playing. The last all-women’s team of the era disbanded in 1934. Ms. Houghton would get her baseball fill by playing professional softball.
Random note: If you visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY you will find Ms. Houghton’s Bobbies cap and her U.S.A. jersey from the Japan tour on display in the museum.
Following her service in the World War II as a member of the WAVES, Ms. Houghton contacted Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, Jr. and asked to be hired as a scout. He agreed and Ms. Houghton became the first woman to hold the position in Major League Baseball. She would scout for the Phillies from 1946-1952, signing fifteen players to contracts, none of whom would play in the majors.
Her career in baseball officially came to an end when she was called up to serve in the Korean War. She later retired from the Navy as a Chief Petty Officer.
Edith Houghton died on February 2, 2013 eight days shy of her 101st birthday.
(Image of Ms. Houghton, circa 1922-1925, is courtesy of MLB.com and copyright Rich Westcott)
Earlier this week, Obit of the Day posted about “Pepper” Paire Davis, who was a star of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which was an indirect descendant of the “Bloomer Girls.” The league formed in 1943 and closed in 1954.
Do you choose….
A’s vs. Rays - two teams in the playoff hunt playing well
Phillies vs. Reds - which is actually Cueto vs. Hamels, classic pitcher’s duel
Do the Phillies have the greatest pitching line-up of all-time?