Baseball Fan Who Shot Her Idol Dead at 83

Ruth Ann Steinhagen inspired 'The Natural'

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 18, 2013 4:56 AM CDT | Updated Mar 18, 2013 7:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – An obsessed baseball fan's near-fatal attack on her idol became a movie—but the fan herself quietly died three months ago. Ruth Ann Steinhagen, whose story inspired the Robert Redford movie The Natural, was 83 when she died Dec. 29 of a subdural hematoma that arose after a fall in her home, reports the Chicago Tribune. The paper talks to the biographer of the Philadelphia Phillies' Eddie Waitkus, who explains the depth of her obsession:

  • "She builds an Eddie Waitkus shrine in her apartment: photos, newspaper clippings, 50 ticket stubs, scorecards. She knows he's from Boston so she develops a craving for baked beans. ... He's Lithuanian, so she teaches herself the language and listens to Lithuanian radio programs."

In 1949, at age 19, she was in a Chicago hotel where Waitkus was staying. She managed to slip him a note telling him she had "something of importance to speak to you about," and he visited her room. When he sat down, she told him she had a surprise for him; she took a rifle from the closet and shot him in the chest, then held his hand, the AP reports. She was ruled insane and spent three years in a psychiatric hospital. Following her release, she worked in an office and lived with her sister. Even workers at the morgue didn't at first realize who she was, the AP notes. "She chose to live in the shadows and she did a good job of it," says a baseball historian. Waitkus, on the other hand, kept on playing—and the Phillies won the pennant that year. The Tribune, which first reported her death, notes that it accidentally stumbled upon her death record while researching another story.

In this June 18, 1949 file photo, Ruth Steinhagen, 19, writes notes for her life history in Cook County Jail in Chicago.
In this June 18, 1949 file photo, Ruth Steinhagen, 19, writes notes for her life history in Cook County Jail in Chicago.   (AP Photo/File)
In this June 17, 1949 file photo, Eddie Waitkus smiles from his bed in Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago as his father, Stephen, holds up his arm for an attempted wave.
In this June 17, 1949 file photo, Eddie Waitkus smiles from his bed in Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago as his father, Stephen, holds up his arm for an attempted wave.   (AP Photo/File)
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