1949 Bowman #142 Eddie Waitkus RC 1950 Bowman #30 Eddie Waitkus
"The Natural" - Eddie Waitkus Page!
With the "in your face" 24/7 sports highlights of today's baseball heroes, it is no surprise baffoons like Jose Canseco, John Rocker, Manny Ramirez, etc. are household names. They
shouldn't be. These guys wish they were a class act. Instead they are simply baffoons. Now you probably have never heard of Eddie Waitkus. If this is the case, you have found a
real gem of a page in cyberspace. If you know of Eddie Waitkus, this will bring back some fond (and not so fond) memories of him. Either way, I felt an Eddie Waitkus tribute page
was in order. Enjoy! Tim
|1947 Tip Top Bread "Eddy" Waitkus 1949 Bowman #142 Eddie Waitkus (Rookie)
Edward Stephen Waitkus was born on September 4, 1919. His parents were of Lithuanian decscent. Eddie was extremely intelligent; he knew 4 languages and had a scholarship to attend Harvard. Waitkus
chose baseball. An exceptional fielding first baseman, Waitkus signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1939. His first game was in April of 1941. Waitkus appeared in only 12 games collecting 5 hits in 28 at bats. But
the Cubs knew they had something special. Unfortunately Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and America entered into World War II. Many ballplayers were called into service. Waitkus was one
of them. He spent 5 years in the Army and saw heavy combat in the Pacific. This experience was to torment him later in life. Waitkus was honorably discharged after the war and was awarded numerous medals
and citations including 5 Bronze Stars. Upon coming back to the States, the Cubs have Waitkus a chance to win back his job. Waitkus worked hard and was the Cubs first baseman when the season opened in
1946. He batted .304 as a rookie with 134 hits (24 2b, 5 3B, 4 HR) and 55 RBIs, mostly as a lead off hitter. Eddie finished 13th in MVP balloting that year. The next two seasons saw Waitkus bat .292 and .295
respectively. He did not have power, but was a solid line drive hitter. Mostly though it was his glove and footwork at first base that made quite an impression on players and fans alike.
This 1947 Tip Top Bread "Eddy" Waitkus (above left) is most likely his first appearance on a baseball card. Tip Top Bread issued these black and white cards in 1947 and they are pretty scarce today.
Considering there were no major issues during the War years, you could say this is technically his "rookie card." But being this was not considered a "major" issue, Waitkus' rookie card is considered to be 1949
Bowman #142 (above right). The Bowman rookie card of Waitkus is fairly inexpensive; you can pick up a nice ungraded example for around $20-$25. Good luck though trying to find a 1947 Tip Top Waitkus, and
if you do, expect to pay a premium!
1943 Wire Photo (Eddie Waitkus pictured on right)
Eddie Waitkus was by all accounts, a real class act. He wore nice suits, was popular with the teammates and was a real fan favorite of the Chicago Cubs faithful. Teenage girls
especially had a crush on Waitkus and there was an "Eddie Waitkus Fan Club" due to his immense popularity. Among the female fans was one in particular, Ruth Ann Steinhagen,
who obsessed over Eddie Waitkus. She had a shrine built to Waitkus and even told her mom at one point she was going to get a gun and kill him.
1952 Topps #158 Eddie Waitkus
The Cubs finished in last place in 1948 and looked to make changes. At the end of the season the Cubs traded first baseman Eddie Waitkus to the Phillies. Hall of Famer Rogers
Hornsby couldn't believe the Cubs traded away "the best first baseman in the business." Cubs fans were shocked, Phillies fans exhuberant. The Phillies had an up and coming
ball club with young stars like Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. They solidified their infield with the acquisition of Waitkus, who was not a kid, but, in the true sense of the
word, a "veteran." Waitkus immediately made an impact with his team, who called him "the Fred Astaire of first basemen." He was enjoying a terrific season (.306 with 64 hits in
54 games) and the leading vote-getter for the upcoming All Star Game. The Phillies were on the road and heading for Chicago for a series at Wrigley Field. One fan in particular
was making plans of her own for Eddie Waitkus.
The Phillies would stay at the Edgewater Beach Hotel when staying in Chicago. Ruth Steinhagen had moved out on her own and made arrangements to stay at the Edgewater
Beach Hotel on June 14, 1949. She left this message at the front desk for Eddie Waitkus:
"Mr. Waitkus -
It's extremely important that I see you as soon as possible. We're not acquainted but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to
let me explain it to you.
As I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow, I'd appreciate it greatly if you could see me as soon as possible. My name is Ruth Anne Burns, and I'm in room 1297-A. I realize
that this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, it's rather important.
Please come soon. I won't take up much of your time."
When Waitkus got the message, he at first was a bit perplexed. He did not know a "Ruth Anne Burns." Waitkus later said he felt like he was being "drawn into something but
could not figure out what." After talking to a couple of teammates about the note over drinks Waikus decided he would call the room. Steinhagen answered and asked that Waitkus
come up to the room. When he arrived she asked him to come in and Waitkus sat down in a chair by the window. Steinhagen told Eddie "I have a surprise for you" and went into a
closet. When she came out she was pointing a .22 caliber rifle at Waitkus. "What goes on here? Is this some kind of joke? What have I done?" Waitkus asked. Steinhagen fired the
weapon at Waitkus' chest. Then she called the hotel operator to call the doctor and waited with Waitkus who was groaning "Baby, why did you do that?"
The bullet entered Waitkus' chest punctured the left lung and narrowly missed his spine. Waitkus, who had survived horrific combat during WWII, was shot by a deranged fan.
Of course it was big news across the country. And Waitkus did recover to play ball again. It took a lot out of him but with the help of a personal trainer and a lot of guts, Waitkis
came back to the Phillies for the 1950 season. 1950 was a special year for the Philadelphia Phillies. They became "The Fightin' Phillies" who went on to win the National League
Pennant. Waitkus had a terrific season though he was physically spent by the end of the regular season. Waitkus batted .284 with 182 hits and 102 runs scored. The Phillies
group of overachievers were swept by a great New York Yankees ballclub led by veteran Joe DiMaggio, but they had nothing to be ashamed of. Eddie Waitkus had also made a
remarkable comeback and had become a team leader for the Phillies. Ruth Ann Steinhagen was declared"insane" and committed to Kankakee State Hospital where she given
electric shock treatment but she was released after just 33 months and judged to be "sane." Because she was judged to be "insane" when she shot Waitkus, and the fact that
Waitkus did not press charges or file a Civil Suit, Ruth Steinhagen was released after less than 3 years at the State Hospital. Waitkus however, had his own demons to overcome.
1950 Wire Photo (Eddie Waitkus (center) getting in shape for the 1950 baseball season)
A good thing that came from the shooting was Carol Webel. She and Eddie had met at Clearwater Beach while Eddie was going through some tough physical training to get back in
shape after the shooting. They married in 1951. Eddie played 3 more seasons in Philadelphia, batting .257, .289 and .291 respectively. He was still a slick first baseman. But he was
also 34 years old and you have to remember back in those days players had to fight to keep their jobs. Most players who weren't Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, etc. had to worry about
losing their jobs to some youngster coming up from the minor leagues. You did not have multi-year contracts like today, you had a good year you might get a raise; if you slumped a
bit you got a smaller paycheck. That's the kind of control owners had back then. They could trade a player without the player's consent. Waitkus felt this pressure especially after the
Phillies disappointing 1951 season. The Phillies said all players were on the trading block except Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. Waitkus got a hefty pay cut for his .257 batting
average. To combat the growing stress he began to drink more and more, especially on the road. To complicate matters further, the Phillies acquired Earl Torgeson, a first baseman
with power. Waitkus did bat .291 and hit .400 as a pinch hitter in 1953 but only had 247 at bats. He was unhappy not playing everyday. The less he played the more he became
depressed. And the more he became depressed the more he drank. Drinking became a problem for Eddie Waitkus. At the end of the 1953 season, Waitkus was not playing so he
jumped the team without permission from the team. He said he was fighting "end of the season nerves." So prior to the 1954 season, Waitkus was mailed his contract offer with yet
another pay cut. Waitkus mailed it back "N.S.F.," "Not Sufficient Funds." The Phillies sold Waitkus to the new Baltimore Orioles for the 1954 season.
1955 Bowman Gum #4 Eddie Waitkus
Eddie had a respectable 1954 season. He hit .283 in 95 games and fielded a flawless 1.000 at first base. But he was in a fragile state. He was suffering from is now known as
"Post Stress Traumatic Syndrome," not only from his combat experiences in WWII but also the shooting in 1949. Then you see how baseball treated it's players back then and it
is wonder so many ballplayers turned to alcohol to "self medicate." The Orioles also began a "youth movement" bringing up youngsters like Brooks Robinson and Gus Triandos.
Brooks Robinson said this of Waitkus: "Eddie came to Baltimore with a great fielding reputation. Even then, very late in his career, he had a sweet swing ,very fluid, very easy,
much like Tony Gwynn. And he was outstanding at first base. I'll always remember Eddie as being very friendly, always well dressed, and a very classy player."
Waitkus was having back problems and not playing regularly. He said, "I was cursed with being a good defensive man and a light hitter. That is why I drive a low-priced car
instead of a limousine." He also offered this bit of advice for young ballplayers: "...If the youngsters really want good advice, tell them to buy a math book and go to MIT. This
life murders you." Waitkus batted only .259 for the O's in 1955 (38 games). He was given his unconditional release in July and signed with the Phillies . He played in 33 more
games and batted .280. On his last game he played both ends of a double header against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the first game he belted a HR against Don Newcombe. He
tipped his cap to his wife Carol after crossing home plate. At the end of the season he was given his release. Eddie Waitkus was finished as a ballplayer at 36 years of age.
This 1955 Bowman Gum card (above) is his last as an active player.
1951 Topps Red Backs #51 Eddie Waitkus
Eddie Waitkus worked for a trucking firm after baseball. And he relied more and more on drinking to "self medicate." His wife Carol said "Eddie was becoming very depressed, and
we didn't go out much. Buffalo (NY) is where I saw Eddie's drinking escalate, in a very quiet way. Eddie's drinking was never all that visible. He was never abusive, never stayed
out late at night, always came home. But he was noncommunicative, and he always felt he needed a drink to pick himself up." Carol and Eddie separated in 1960. In 1961 Waitkus
suffered a "mild nervous disorder" and was admitted to the Veterans Administration hospital in Philadelphia. Actually he was having a mental breakdown. Again, PTSD was not
known as it is today. Back then it was called "Shell Shock" or "Battle Fatigue." Waitkus spent released from the VA but never tried to get help for depression or alcohol. Eventually
his wife divorced him and Waitkus moved back "home" to Massachusetts. He lived alone for several years. In 1967 he was hired by The Ted Williams camp as a baseball coach and
counselor. There Eddie Waitkus found comfort in teaching youngsters the game of baseball. His wife Carol said "He spent some really good years there. He had a closeness with the
kids and that helped him. It was a good spot for Eddie." In 1969 Waitkus was honored by the Phillies fans as "The Greatest First Baseman in Phillie's History." He was invited back
to Philadephia and presented with a plaque before a home game.
1949 Philadelphia Bulletin Phillies Eddie Waitkus
By 1972, Eddie Waitkus was in bad shape. He was an "old" 53 years of age. He had fractured his hip in a fall off a ladder the previous year and walked with a painful limp. His
eyes were sunken in, he lacked energy and he had a persistant cough. He had stopped drinking but was a heavy smoker. Near the end of the baseball camp, Waitkus became ill
with pneumonia. He was admitted to the VA Hospital in Jamaica Plain. He never left the hospital. His family came to see him and he offered fatherly advice to his children Ted and
Ronni. But on September 16, 1972 Eddie Waitkus passed away. His death was caused by esophagus cancer of the throat and lungs. He was buried with full Military Honors at
Cambridge Cemetery in Massachusetts.
Inspired by the Eddie Waitkus story, author Bernard Malamud penned a fictional novel about a baseball "natural" who is shot by woman in a hotel room. The book, "The Natural"
became the basis for the film of the same name starring Robert Redford as "Roy Hobbs, The Natural." While most today are familiar with the film, which was a big hit, most are not
familiar with the name of Eddie Waitkus. Eddie Waitkus was one of the best first baseman in the business and probably would have lived a longer life if not for WWII and Ruth
Ann Steinhagen. It is my sincere hope that you will remember the name of Edward Stephen Waitkus and other veterans both past, present and future.
The above 1949 Edward Waitkus "card" was printed in the Philadelphia Bulletin along with other members of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics baseball clubs. These "cards" were intended to
be cut out and pasted on cardboard like traditional baseball cards. They are quite scarce today. For more information of Eddie Waitkus I highly recommend "Baseball's Natural - The Story of Eddie Waitkus" by
John Theodore (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002). You can pick up a nice copy on Amazon.com.
1949 Philadelphia Bulletin Phillies 1950 Bowman #30 1950 Drakes Cookies 1951 Berk Ross 1951 Bowman #28 1951 Topps Red Back #51
1947-66 Exhibit 1947-66 Exhibit 1947 Tip Top 1949 Bowman #142 1949 Lummis Peanut Butter (Back view)
("Chicago") (Plain jersey) (Rare!) (Rookie Card) (Rare!)
Eddie Waitkus Baseball Card Gallery
(Click on image for larger scan)
1952 Bowman #92 1952 Topps #158 1954 Esskay Hot Dogs 1955 Bowman #4 1974 Capital Publishing Ed Waitkus
(Rare!) (Last card as active player) (Front) (Back)
This is probably not a complete listing of all of Eddie Waitkus' baseball cards. Companies like TCMA issued cards of Waitkus later in the 1970's and 1980's. If you have scans of any issues of Eddie Waitkus during his playing
days not listed here, please send me a scan. I would love to post it here for everyone to enjoy. Please note that I do not have all of these cards! The 1949 Lummis Peanut Butter cards are RARE and other cards like the Drakes
Cookies, Esskay Hot Dogs and Tip Top Bread issues are very scarce and hard to find. I wish I had them (or could afford them!). If you are looking for easy to find and inexpensive cards (collector grades) your best bet are the
Bowman and Topps issues. Thanks! Tim
Vintage 1940's-1950's Wilson Eddie Waitkus Model First Base Glove (Store bought)
Eddie Waitkus Photo Gallery
Click on photo to enlarge
1950 Drakes Cookies #12 Eddie Waitkus
While big screen Plasma, High Definition, 3D TVs are very popular today, back in the 1940's-1950's, television was new and everyone wanted one. Drakes Cookies produced a "TV
Baseball Series" in 1950 featuring ball players in action shots in a "television screen" format. These cards featured black borders and are very tough to find in high grades. In fact they are very
tough to find at all in any grade. These are just great looking cards! Bowman Gum also issued a "TV' format on their 1955 baseball set. The 1955 Bowman #4 Ed Waitkus bubble gum card
was the last card of him issued as an active player (see above Gallery of Cards for a picture).
Edward Waitkus 1919 - 1972
1951 Berk Ross 2-card panel Ed Waitkus, Paul Unruh
In 1951, Bowman Gum was the biggest producer of bubble gum baseball cards. Topps was just getting started and would establish themselves the following year (1952). Berk Ross of Brooklyn N.Y. issued a
series of "Hit Parade of Champions" cards in 1951. These cards were issued in 2-card panel form and featured Champions in the world of sports. The cards have tinted color photographs and a brief bio on
the back. Several baseball players are in the set including Eddie Waitkus from the pennant winning "Wiz Kids" Phillies team the year before (1950). I picked up this card for something like $20. The 2-card
panels were intended to be pulled apart at the perforations to make "singles," but you can still find these in panel form. Berk Ross issued just one more set in 1952 and that was it. While not as colorful as
their Bowman counterparts, the Berk Ross cards are much scarcer. They are also less expensive than the Bowman cards, which means a bargain for collectors.
While some baseball cards of Eddie Waitkus are rare, you can still find good deals on regular Bowman and Topps cards on eBay. There were also some cards produced of Waitkus after his playing career had
ended, like TCMA cards and other collector issues that are really inexpensive.