The woman who inspired The Natural has died at the age of 83. Despite the fact that she passed away on December 29, her death was not reported until this week.
The woman, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, inspired the 1949 movie The Natural when she lured a major league baseball player into a hotel room and shot him. The player, Eddie Waitkus, survived.
Ruth Ann’s story — told using Robert Redford, Barbara Hershey, and several others — became infamous with Chicago’s colorful crime history. The tale began with the teenager’s crush on Waitkus, who played first base for the Chicago Cubs.
But a simple crush turned into much more. The fan soon became obsessed, so much so that she set a place for him at the dinner table. She also turned her bedroom into a shrine for the ball player and kept a photo of him under her pillow.
Following the 1948 season, the handsome first baseman was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. The woman who inspired The Natural was less than pleased. Ruth Ann Steinhagen decided it was time for Eddie to die. And she got her chance the next year.
The Phillies came to Chicago to play against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 14, 1949. She checked into a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel — the same place the Phillies, and Waitkus, were staying. She wrote a note to him after the game that said, “We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about.”
Once he arrived at her room, Steinhagen explained she had a surprise for him. That surprise was a rifle. The obsessed teen took the rifle out and shot Eddie Waitkus in the chest. The press sensationalized the story. Waitkus survived and a judge determined the girl was insane. She was committed to a mental hospital and released three years later.
Waitkus ultimately decided he would not press charges against the woman who shot him. Other details about Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s life are sketchy. She was able to blend into a neighborhood just a few miles from the hotel where she shot the baseball player. As for Waitkus, the first baseman returned to baseball one year later.
Eddie Waitkus died in 1972, 12 years before Robert Redford would play the character inspired by him. Ruth Ann Steinhagen was also left to pass away quietly. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, who confirmed her death, was surprised to learn of her identity despite seeing The Natural, which told the story of the woman’s obsession.