Cover image for Baseball's natural : the story of Eddie Waitkus
Title:
Baseball's natural : the story of Eddie Waitkus
Author:
Theodore, John, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
xxiv, 136 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Language:
English
Reading Level:
1070 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780809324507
Format :
Book

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GV865.W334 T54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Baseball's Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus is John Theodore's true account of the slick-fielding first baseman who played for the Cubs and Phillies in the 1940s and became an immortalized figure in baseball lore as the inspiration for Roy Hobbs in Bernard Malamud's The Natural. The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Edward Stephen Waitkus (1919-1972) grew up in Boston and served in the Pacific during World War II. His army service in some of the war's bloodiest combat earned him four Bronze Stars. Following the war, Waitkus became one of the most popular players of his era. As a rookie he led the Cubs in hitting in 1946 and quickly established himself as one of the best first basemen in the National League. To the disappointment of fans, the Cubs traded Waitkus to the Phillies in December 1948. When he returned to Chicago in a Philadelphia uniform in June of the following year, he was hitting. 306 and seemed destined for the All Star team. On the night of June 14 at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Waitkus's bright career took an infamously tragic turn. He received a cryptic note summoning him to meet a young fan, Ruth Steinhagen. When Waitkus entered her hotel room, she proclaimed, ""I have a surprise for you,"" and then she just as quickly shot him in the chest. Steinhagen, then only nineteen, was one of the many young women - called ""Baseball Annies"" - who were fanatic about the game and its players, though her obsession proved more dangerous than most. A criminal court indicted Steinhagen and confined her to a state mental hospital for nearly three years. Waitkus survived the shooting, made an inspirational return to baseball in 1950, and led the Phillies to the World Series. While Waitkus triumphed over his assault, he could not conquer his private demons. Depression stemming from the attack led to a severe problem with alcohol, a failed marriage, and a nervous breakdown. Waitkus found some happiness in his final summers working with youngsters at the Ted Williams Baseball Camp. Cancer claimed him in 1972, just days after his fifty-third birthday. Through interviews with Waitkus's family, fellow servicemen, former ballplayers, and childhood friends, and aided by fifteen photographs, Theodore chronicles Waitkus's remarkable comeback as well as the difficult years following his eleven-year major league career.


Author Notes

John Theodore has served as a reporter, writer, editor, and television and radio producer for United Press International, WGN, and WGN-TV


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Eddie Waitkus' place in baseball history is secured by two footnotes: he was shot in a Chicago hotel room by a baseball "Annie," and he was the player upon whom Bernard Malamud based his classic novel The Natural. This wonderful biography portrays Waitkus as an elegant, gentle man who was haunted as much by his World War II combat experience as he was by his shooting at the hand of Ruth Steinhagen in 1949. When Waitkus, a good but not great player, resumed his career after surviving heavy combat in the South Pacific, he had the misfortune to cross paths with a disturbed young woman who had become obsessive in her pursuit of him. He nearly died from the shooting but mounted a comeback that thrilled the nation. After a few more years as a player, he retired to what he hoped would be a satisfying business career. It was not. Haunted by his memories and frustrated by his lack of success, he turned to alcohol. In his later years, his primary joy was working summers at Ted Williams' baseball camp. There wasn't a Nobel Prize at the end of Waitkus' journey, but readers may find a similarity between him and Jonathan Nash of A Beautiful Mind. Both were good men who struggled mightily against demons they did not create. Thanks to Theodore's meticulous research and passionate writing, perhaps Waitkus will rise above his footnote status, at least for a time. This could be the sleeper of the sports publishing season. --Wes Lukowsky


Library Journal Review

Eddie Waitkus, whose ill fortune it was to be the inspiration for Roy Hobbs in Bernard Malamud's The Natural, was both an anomaly and an enigma. A thinker in a profession populated by doers, he was a slick-fielding singles hitter at a position (first base) usually inhabited by power hitters. He wrote poetry expressing deep emotions but was so self-contained that his own daughter professed not to know whether those feelings were really his own or mere poetic device. He loved and was loved by the ladies but was not a satyr, as are many professional athletes, yet he was shot by a crazed female fan in her Chicago hotel room. He was not a rowdy drunk given to barroom brawls and still he drank himself out of baseball. A career .285 hitter who despite initial accolades never led the league in any major fielding category, he was a comparatively minor figure in baseball history. But these inconsistencies render him interesting, and freelancer Theodore tells his story well. Recommended for mid-sized to large public library baseball collections. Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Ira Berkow
List of Illustrationsp. xiii
Forewordp. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xxi
Introductionp. xxiii
Major League Career Statistics for Eddie Waitkusp. xv
1. Room 1297-Ap. 1
2. Building a Dreamp. 6
3. A Sealed Fatep. 12
4. A Swift Judgement Dayp. 16
5. East Cambridge and Beyondp. 20
6. Chicago to Philadelphiap. 31
7. Baseball Anniesp. 41
8. Clearwater Beachp. 47
9. Comebackp. 55
10. Kankakee State Hospitalp. 61
11. All the Game's Wild Gloryp. 66
12. Hero's Journeyp. 83
13. In the Shadowsp. 89
14. No Sentiment in Baseballp. 95
15. A Quiet Existencep. 105
16. Hidden Enemyp. 115
17. The Pleasure of Your Ownp. 122
18. Lost Herop. 131