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RIP: Woman who 'inspired' shooting of Roy Hobbs

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

Remember the scene from The Natural in which a plainly banana-town Barbara Hershey plugs Robert Redford (Roy Hobbs) with a .38 slug (or thereabouts)? Action-news reminder ...

(Aside: Yes, let the record show that you can watch the entirety of The Natural on YouTube, ideally while your employer thinks you're working diligently to move product or otherwise improve the balance sheet.)

Anyhow, the "inspiration" for Harriet Bird, Hershey's character, died in Chicago not long ago at the age of 83. The death of Ruth Ann Steinhagen in December went mostly unnoticed, but then the Chicago Tribune happened upon news of her death.

In 1949, Steinhagen shot Cubs first baseman Eddie Waitkus, who nearly died as a result. The Trib summarizes:

The 19-year-old's crime, which put a spotlight on stalking crimes, nearly killed Waitkus, 29, and temporarily sidetracked his career. The incident also helped to draw attention to "baseball Annies" — young, hero-worshipping groupies who would pursue major league ballplayers, often relentlessly.

However, from the time that Ruth Ann Steinhagen left Kankakee State Hospital in 1952 after undergoing nearly three years of psychiatric treatment, she disappeared into near obscurity — so much so that one of her final next-door neighbors said he lived there for more than 15 years before learning her history.

Steinhagen, who never spoke publicly about the Waitkus incident after her release from the hospital, spent much of her final 42 years living in a modest house on the Northwest Side with her parents and sister.

In short, she became obsessed with Waitkus, and her obsession deepened after Waitkus was traded to the Phillies.

When the Phillies came to Chicago in June 1949, Steinhagen, unassuming typist by day, attended the matinee contest and, afterward, summoned Waitkus to her room at the Edgewater Hotel via scrawled note. When Waitkus showed up (who can blame him!), Steinhagen informed him that she had a surprise ... and then shot him just below the heart with a .22 rifle.

After multiple surgeries. Waitkus survived. Just like Roy Hobbs. Although, to be fair, the similarities end there (i.e., no walk-off home run heralded by exploding light bulbs and no subsequent life of bliss with Glenn Close).

Understated headline from the day (Warsaw Daily Times):

Harrowingly enough, back in 1932, another luckless Cub -- shortstop Billy Jurges -- was shot by a smitten paramour, this time in Room 509 of the Hotel Carlos. In this instance, the flintlock wielder was one Violet Valli (to be fair, a name like that might have condemned her to madness from the start).

To hear Ms. Valli tell it, it was all the fault of lamewad Kiki Cuyler, whom, she believed, persuaded Jurges to dump her. Understated headline from the day (Pittsburgh Press):

In the case of the lovely and talented Ms. Valli, a dancer by training, Jurges declined to prosecute, and Valli leveraged her infamy into a vaudeville show that ran for 22 weeks. Promoters billed her as "Violet (What I did for love) Valli, the Most Talked About Girl In Chicago."

She was surely that, at least until Ruth Ann Steinhagen came along.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

 
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