I might say the weather was prophetic. A thunderstorm blew in before dawn that Tuesday morning, 14 June, 1949 breaking a ten day dry spell. Still the sky remained so uninviting only 7,815 filed into Wrigley Field. But after noon the clouds parted, and by game time the sun was driving humid temperatures into the low eighties. Last place Chicago was hosting fourth place Philadelphia, but the real draw was the return of two popular players traded over the winter - pitcher "Mad Monk" Mayer and first baseman Eddie Waitkus.
“Rowdy Russ” pitched his typical game. While there were no temper tantrums this time, the scowling screw ball pitcher went eight and two-thirds innings, gave up ten hits and made two wild pitches, while allowing only one walk. Eddie, who was such a good defensive player he was known as "the natural", also rose to the occasion, going two for four, with a walk, and he scored twice. The Cubs staged a ninth inning rally on two solo home runs, but 2 hours and 12 minutes after it began, the Phillies had won 9 to 2, improving their record to 29 and 25, while the Cubs sank to a dismal 19 wins against 32 losses. As morality plays go it was very satisfying for the pair of exiled heroes. But it was only the opening act.
Two miles north of the ballpark, the Edgewater Beach Hotel (above) had opened on Chicago's North Shore in 1916, just in time for the Roaring Twenties. With a thousand rooms and twelve stories over looking Lake Michigan, a private beach, tennis courts, swimming pools, a golf course, hiking and riding trails, a five star restaurant, and sea plane service to the downtown Chicago lakefront. The Spanish stucco hotel was the Midwest coast du jour for a decade. During the thirties, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw played in the outdoor and the indoor ballrooms, and were broadcast over the hotel's own radio station – WEBH. However the depression eventually grew so great it forced the owners to sell, and by 1949, 'The Sunrise Hotel” was an aging dame, concealing the mends in her petticoats - hiding the truth that fame and fortune, and youth and health are merely temporary distractions.
The Phillies team bus got back to the Edgewater at 5349 North Sheridan by four, and after showering, Russ met with his parents and his fiance Dorthy, who had driven the 80 miles up from their homes in Peru, Illinois. Eddie joined them taking a cab to a restaurant. Eddie Sawyer, the Phillies manager, had set a ten o’clock curfew. Although Myer usually paid little attention to such restrictions (one teammate admitted he roomed only with Russ's bags), this night he and Eddie made the check in. After escorting Dorthy and Meyer's parents to their room, the ball players returned to their own quarters in room 904. There they discovered a note addressed to Eddie, taped to the door.
Written on hotel stationary, the note read: “Mr. Waitkus; It's extremely important that I see you as soon as possible. We're not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain it to you. As I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow, I'd appreciate it greatly if you would see me as soon as possible. My name is Ruth Ann Burns, and I am in room 1297a. I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, its rather important. Please come soon. I won't take up much of your time, I promise.”
Eddie would say later he thought the note was from an old girl friend from his hometown of Boston. But whatever his reason, instead of just calling the twelfth floor room, despite the late hour, Eddie decided to go there directly. It was about eleven thirty, and another thunderstorm was ripping the darkness, when 29 year old Eddie Waitkus stepped off the elevator on the twelfth floor.
The door of room 1297a was opened by a tall, dark haired young woman, who introduced herself as Mary Brown. She told Eddie, “Ruth Ann will be back in a few minutes. Why don't you have a seat.” Eddie squeezed past the fold out bed in the small room (above). As he sat in a nondescript chair (right) he noticed three empty drinking glasses sitting on the dresser (left) – a daiquiri and two whiskey sours. Eddie realized with a start the woman was staring at him. He remembered, “She had the coldest looking face I've ever seen.” And then he realized the woman was holding a rifle. As he stood up, she shot Eddie in the chest.
The bullet drilled through Eddies' right lung, causing it to collapse, and lodged in the muscles of his back, next to his spine. Stunned, Eddie asked the woman, “Oh Baby, what did you do that for?” As he fell the blinding pain hit him. And as he struggled to catch his breath, Eddie heard the clinking of the telephone dial. After a moment, he heard the woman's voice. “I've just shot a man, in my room” she said. Then she hung up, walked out and waited beside the elevator for the police to arrive. When the attendants carried Eddie out of the room, Rowdy Russ heard his friend Eddie asking, over and over, “Why?”
The shooter willingly identified herself as 19 year old Catherine “Ruth” Ann Steinhagen (above), a typist for the Continental Casualty insurance company. She told the detectives, “I went to Cubs Park and watched Eddie help the Phillies beat the Cubs 9 to 2. It was wonderful.” But then she said, “If he had just walked into the room a little decently, I would have told him to call the police. However he was too confident. He swaggered.” Asked to describe her relationship with Eddie, Ruth Ann said, “I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy. I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way...Then I decided I would kill him. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would kill him.” She added, “I'm sorry that Eddie had to suffer so, but I had to relieve the tension that I have been under the past two weeks.”
At her arraignment on June 30, 1949 – 17 days after the shooting - Dr. William Haines diagnosed Ruth Ann as suffering with schizophrenia, and her lawyer affirmed that she was “unable to cooperate with counsel in her own defense”. Judge James McDermott committed her to the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane at Kankakee.
Meanwhile, Eddie had suffered through four surgeries, and came close to dying more than once. But he was young, and in good shape, even after his combat tour in the Philippines in 1944-45, where he had earned four Bronze Stars. He would miss the rest of the 1949 season, and he never again achieved the .306 batting average he held on June 14, 1949. But on opening day of the 1950 season, the Philadelphia first baseman went three for five.
Ruth Ann spent three years in Kankakee, repeatedly under going electroconvulsive shock therapy, as well as hydro and occupational therapy. In April 1952 the doctors deemed her to be “cured”. The prosecutors office asked if Eddie wanted to pursue a case against Ruth Ann, and he said no. Ruth Ann was never tried for her shooting of Eddie Waitkus. When the 22 year old was released into the custody of her parents (above), Ruth Ann told reporters she was going to go to work at the Kankakee hospital as a physical therapist, but she never did.
Most of the Edgewater Hotel was demolished in 1968, leaving a single pink colored apartment tower, and the once private beach. The site is now the Park Tower Market.
Eddie retired in 1955 at 35 years of age, with a life time batting average of .285. He had married one of his nurses, and they had a son. For many years he was an instructor at a Ted Williams baseball camp, teaching future major league players. But Eddie also showed the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from his war experiences and his shooting at the Edgwater. He became an alcoholic, and a recluse. Said his son, “His nerves were shattered for awhile...and he didn't recognize the problems, but they hampered him for the rest of his life.” Edward Stephen Waitkus died of esophageal cancer on September 16, 1972, at just 53 years of age.
Catherine Ruth Ann Steinhagen lived quietly with her family in a nondescript north west Chicago home (above) until her parents died in the early 1990's. Her sister died there in 2007. Just after Christmas of 2012 Ruth Ann fell in her home, hit her head and suffered a subdural hemotoma. She died on December 29 in the Swedish Convent Hospital, at 5145 N. California Avenue, two-and-a-half miles north of Wrigley Field, and about two miles west of the old site of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. She was 83 years old..
The incident inspired the book and film “The Natural”. But as you can see, legend often has only a passing acquaintance with reality. And reality, often has only a passing acquaintance with legend.