In 1952, Bernard Malamud's The Natural was published. The book tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a fantastically gifted baseball player who is shot, to use Hobbs' words, by a "batty dame" just as his professional career is set to begin. At age 37, Hobbs finally makes it to the big leagues, and that's where I end my summary of the book.
In 1984, Robert Redford, in a brilliant performance, portrayed Hobbs in the film version--which kicked off the baseball movie craze.
Where did Malamud get his inspiration for his novel? In Chicago, more specifically, from something that happened at the Edgewater Beach Hotel on the city's North Side.
The hotel was closed in 1967--two condominiums, pictured above, stand on the site of the famous inn.
Eddie Waitkus was a Rookie of the Year first baseman for the Chicago Cubs in 1946, and a two time all-star. While playing for the North Siders, Waitkus got the attention of an obsessed fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who became depressed after Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. On June 14, 1949, the Phillies were in town for a series against the Cubs. The Edgewater was where visiting teams usually stayed, and Steinhagen booked a room there, invited Waitkus to her room, and shot him. She coldly told Waitkus, "If I can’t have you, nobody else can." Steinhagen was committed to a mental institution after the shooting.
Waitkus almost died from his wound, but the following season, he played in of the Phils' 154 games--and the Phillies made it to the World Series for the first time in 35 years.
Here are Waitkus' career stats.
Waitkus served in World War II, survived some bloody fighting in the Philippines, and was awarded four Bronze Stars.
Waitkus may not have been the real "Natural," but he was certainly a real hero. He died of cancer in 1973.
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