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On Historical Ground

Fatal Attraction: The Woman Who Shot Eddie Waitkus
By Ron Visco and Bruce Markusen

"I was infatuated with him and wanted the thrill of murdering him."

Fifty years ago, just before midnight on June 14, 1949, nineteen-year-old Ruth Ann Steinhagen shot Philadelphia Phillies star Eddie Waitkus in her Chicago hotel room. Afterward, Ruth said, "Išve never been so happy in my life." They had never spoken or even met until that evening.

As a teenage girl, Ruth had begun attending Chicago Cubs games and saw Eddie Waitkus play first base. Waitkus had debuted with the Cubs briefly in 1941, but he surrendered a large chunk of his career to see action in the Pacific during World War II. It was not until 1946 that he returned to the major leagues, still with the Cubs. He batted .304 that year in 113 games and was considered a classy-fielding first baseman. Waitkus was also a smart guy, an honor student in Latin at an exclusive high school in Boston. He spoke Polish and German, as well as Lithuanian, the nationality of his parents.

According to Ruth's mother, it was a boyfriend, Danny, who got her "started on all this baseball business." Danny, she said, wanted to marry Ruth, but the teenage girl stopped seeing him. Instead, Ruth seemed to spend much of her time indulging in a fixation on Eddie Waitkus. At games, she would watch other girls calling out to Waitkus or even getting his autograph, but she never approached him; her admiration was more private. Ruth became a big fan of Waitkus's and attended weekend games in Chicago regularly throughout 1947 and 1948. Her interest in Waitkus seemed to grow stronger and more intense during those years. She kept clippings and other items relating to Waitkus. Her mother said Ruth had hundreds of pictures of Waitkus and that "she used to spread them out on the table and even on the floor and look at them for hours."

Ruth's interest seemed to be something darker and more obsessive than the normal level of youthful fan infatuation. She moved out of her family's home into a rooming house after she took a job as a clerk in an insurance firm. Her mother later said, "I guess she wanted to be alone with her pictures of Eddie." In 1948 Ruth told her mother, "I'm going to get a gun and shoot Eddie and myself. . . . I can't help it, I'm crazy about him." Her mother "couldn't believe she would ever do that," she said later. "Ruth is a good girl."

After three good years with the Cubs, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1949 season. He continued to play very well. His fielding was considered top-notch, and by June 14 his batting average stood at .306, the highest of his career. At the time, in fact, Waitkus was leading National League first basemen in voting for the All Star Game.

Waitkus's trade to the Phillies, however, had been very upsetting to Ruth. According to her mother, the teenager wanted to move to Philadelphia to be near Waitkus. Ruth, according to a female acquaintance, used to write "lots of letters" to Waitkus and even make phone calls, but they went unanswered. Ruth later said that she "cried night and day" when Waitkus was traded.

Ruth knew that Waitkus's new team, the Phillies, would be in Chicago for a series with the Cubs in mid-June. On May 10, she made a reservation at the Edgewater Hotel under the name of "Ruth Ann Burns" of Boston. Apparently, Ruth entertained a friend, Helen Farazis, an eighteen-year-old student, during her first night at the hotel. Later, Helen said she knew Ruth had the gun and had threatened several times to "get Eddie," but Helen did not take her seriously.

On June 14, Ruth went to the afternoon game at Wrigley Field. She would later say, "I went to Cubs Park and watched Eddie help the Phillies beat the Cubs 9 to 2. It was wonderful." After the game, she returned to the hotel for dinner. Later that night Ruth ordered three drinks through room service, a daiquiri and two whisky sours. She paid a bellhop five dollars to deliver a handwritten note to Waitkus's room. Meanwhile, Waitkus had gone to dinner with a teammate, Russ Meyer, and Meyer's family. He went back to the hotel later that evening. He found Ruth's note waiting:

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Fall 1999 issue.

RON VISCO is a teacher in the education program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and has a Ph.D. in research and statistics. BRUCE MARKUSEN is the author of Baseball's Last Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Oakland A's, the winner of the Seymour Medal presented by the Society for American Baseball Research in recognition of the best baseball book of 1998.

© 1999 Ron Visco and Bruce Markusen


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