Friday, August 17, 2012

Unpossible Autograph Friday- Eddie Waitkus, "The Natural" , Oriole #2

This week's edition of an unpossible autograph features one of the players with possibly the most interesting story of nearly any of the 938 men who have appeared in a game for the Orioles. Many of you might not recognize the name Eddie Waitkus, but you likely have heard his story, or at least the fictionalized account of it. I bet that the name Roy Hobbs would ring a bell for many more of you, and you see, Eddie was the inspiration of the title character in the book, and later the movie, "The Natural".

Writer Bernard Malamud wrote "The Natural" way back in 1952, when Eddie's story was better known. You see, while the book was not a biography of Eddie, the part about the ballplayer who was shot by an obsessed female fan is based off of his story. Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who had some mental issues to say the least, became infatuated with Eddie and his All-Star caliber of play when he was a member of the Cubs between 1946-48. Apparently the fact that she was able to watch him play throughout the season kept her at bay, but when he was traded to the Phillies prior to the 1949 season, and she was no longer to see him regularly, made something snap inside of her.

On June 14, 1949 she stayed at the Phillies' team hotel and posed as one of Eddie's former classmates, and asked him to meet her in her hotel room. He obliged, walking into Steinhagen's trap, and she shot him in the chest, nearly killing him. Eddie's life was saved by the doctors who worked on him, and Ruth Ann was committed to a mental institution. At this point, the book and movie diverge from Eddie's tale, but it is a major part of Malamud's story. Outside of saying that the book and movie end differently, I won't give away any more information but I strongly suggest that you read the book and/or watch the movie if you have never have before.

Eddie made a quick recovery from the assault and actually was back to playing baseball at the beginning of the 1950 season. While he did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder for the remainder of his life, his baseball skills didn't seem to suffer too badly. He continued to play through the 1955 season, and was a member of the inaugural 1954 Orioles. In fact he was the second player to ever bat for the team when he came to the plate on April 13, 1954 in Detroit against the Tigers. Eddie played in 133 games for the O's over the 1954-55 seasons, and let me tell you that it's a tough task to find a signed copy of this 1955 Bowman, the one and only Orioles card issued during his lifetime, at least at a semi-reasonable price.

Eddie passed away from complications of esophageal cancer at just 53 years of age in 1972. His untimely passing at a relatively young age, combined with his fame due to the connection to "The Natural" make his autograph a highly sought after commodity. RIP Eddie.

To briefly explain the misspelled/made up title of these weekly posts: Every Friday, I profile a former Oriole who has passed away. I've substituted the word unpossible for impossible as an homage to a line from "The Simpsons". Young Ralph Wiggum, who is not very smart, says "Me fail English? That's unpossible." 

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