True Crime Tale of Philadelphia Phillies’ Player Eddie Waitkus’ Encounter With a Deranged Fan

On entire career-altering, Bernard Malamud–inspiring incident that occurred in 1949.

Everybody knows it took a staggering 108 years for the Chicago Cubs to shake the World Series curse when they won it last year.

But it wasn’t an easy road, by any means. There was the laundry list of National League championships—1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938—all of which came up short during the Series. There was also the heartbreaking loss in ’45. And well, there was talk of a number of “curses”—like the Boston Red Sox endured when they sold away a young pitcher named Babe Ruth. Like that of the “Billy Goat” from ’45 or much later, poor Steve Bartman.

But in June 1949, all of the other curses would pale in comparison to the one that would befall young, talented first baseman Eddie Waitkus—a former Cubbie who’d been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. At his hotel after a game, he received a message from one Ruth Anne Burns (actually, Steinhagen), whom he followed up with and called. She said she had a “surprise” for him. So Waitkus went and knocked on her door.

Steinhagen was, in fact, a crazed fan, who had become obsessed with Waitkus, and when he was traded to the Phillies, had a mental break. When he arrived at the door, Steinhagen told him about the surprise, went to the closet, and produced a shotgun, which she aimed at him and then pulled the trigger. Waitkus slumped to the wall, having been shot point-blank with a .22-caliber bullet, which pierced his lung. It stopped near his spine.

Miraculously, Waitkus survived to play baseball again by 1950, but was never the same. “The loneliness was part of it,” he told Sport Life magazine in 1950. “The pain was part of it, but it went deeper than that. There was an awful doubt in my mind. And no matter how I tried to ignore it—always knew it was there.”

And Steinhagen? She was declared insane and committed.

It would become part of the Cubs’ “curse” myth, and even find its way into popular culture, when Bernard Malamud wrote the incident into his famous novel, The Natural.

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