On June 14, 1949,
while the Phillies were playing the Cubs
at Wrigley Field on Ladies Day,
Ruth Steinhagen, nineteen,
sat spellbound in the stands,
rekindling the blaze that she possessed,
fixing Eddie Waitkus in her gaze,
the handsome first baseman
Chicago had traded to Philadelphia
before the season had begun.
She’d pored over sports pages,
sliced his pictures out of magazines,
a man she’d never met,
a World War II combat vet,
recipient of four Bronze Stars.
That night she reserved a room
at the Edgewater Beach Hotel,
knowing he’d be there,
and sent a note to Waitkus,
imploring him to meet with her –
she had a message, she said,
one that couldn’t wait.
Shortly before midnight,
she heard a knocking at her door.
After ushering Waitkus into the room,
the tall brunette excused herself
and fetched a rifle from the closet.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
She pulled the trigger –
a bullet ripped into his chest
and as he slumped to the floor
had strength enough to ask,
“Baby, what’d you do that for?”
She notified the operator
who summoned the hotel doctor
and in her moment of bliss,
the one she’d craved so long,
Steinhagen held her idol’s hand.
At the Cook County jail,
she relished the barrage
of questions reporters fired at her,
their pens and pencils poised.
Informed Waitkus had survived,
she said, “I dream of him every night,”
and pointing to his pictures in the cell,
asked, “Why’s he always smiling?”
Waitkus needed months to recuperate,
rejoining the Phillies in1950
when they won the pennant,
the beginning of the decline in both
his baseball career and personal life.
He retired from the game in 1955.
A heavy drinker and smoker,
he died of cancer at 53 in 1972.
Steinhagen, diagnosed as schizophrenic,
was committed to the Kankakee State Hospital
and discharged three years later.