Baseball's Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus

Baseball's Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus

by John Theodore
     
 

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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

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Overview

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 of 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Wonderful. . . . 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.”

Booklist (starred 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. . . .

[T]hese inconsistencies render him interesting, and Theodore tells his story well.”

Library Journal

“The name Waitkus has probably ceased to have much resonance among baseball fans. But this is what Theodore’s sensitive and well researched book has managed to cure. In a strange way, Waitkus emerges as a lost hero of sorts, a man worthy of being memorialized in this book.”Ray Robinson, author of Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time, and coauthor of Pennants and Pinstripes: A 100 Year History of the New York Yankees
 

“For anyone who loves baseball, Theodore’s Baseball’s Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus is a must read. . . . It has all the elements of a great novel.”

—Steve Neal, Chicago Sun-Times

Library Journal
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 Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809324507
Publisher:
Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date:
09/28/2002
Series:
Writing Baseball
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)
Lexile:
1070L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

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

New York Times sportswriter and 1988 Pulitzer Prize nominee Ira Berkow provides the foreword to this compelling rediscovery of baseball’s natural.

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