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A Good Man Fades Away...,
This review is from: Baseball's Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus (Writing Baseball) (Hardcover)
It is common knowledge among baseball historians that Eddie waitkus provided the basis for "The Natural", a short story and film success.
The true story of Waitkus is far more tragic than the fictional version. This book successfully portrays the life of this somewhat obscure ballplayer. John Theodore does a fine job of researching Waitkus' life and career.
He also does a fine job of covering the little known details surrounding the woman who shot Waitkus on that fateful evening at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago in 1949. Her name is Ruth Steinhagen and her semi-successful reentry into society after release from an Illinois mental institution is chronicled.
It is one of the saddest stories ever in the world of sports.
Waitkus, who survived 2 years of intense combat in the South Pacific during WWII, returns from the war to resume a baseball career which sees him headed for superstardom, only to fall to a crazed females obsession with him.
Waitkus played in 1946,'47 and'48 with the Chicago Cubs. He was an All-Star and .300 hitter. Many considered him the best fielding first baseman in the game.
His trade to the Phillies for the 1949 season was considered a coup for the Phils. He was exactly what the youthful "Whiz Kids" needed; a quality veteran who could hit, field and lend class to the organization. He was hitting over .300 and leading the All-Star balloting in the National League when disaster struck in early June.
His subsequent recovery and contribution to the Phillies pennant winning 1950 team was the "feelgood" story of 1950. It wasn't to last however.
Waitkus was pursued by the residual demons of the shooting and latent WWII memories. He slumped in 1951 and, always a drinker, began to smoke and drink more heavily. Even marriage and a subsequent family which he loved dearly failed to assuage his demons. His physical skills reduced by the shooting, his continued late hour drinking contributing to his weakened condition, Waitkus never was able to fulfill his potential and by 1955 he was out of baseball.
Then the serious problems began.
Unable to find a job that satisfied him, he drifted from one job to another, finally ending up living in a rooming house near Harvard University and working the summers at what he knew best; an instructor at Ted Williams baseball camps. The end came suddenly in 1972 when a weakend Waitkus died from lung cancer at age 52.
In spite of the tragic aspects of Waitkus' life, Theodore successfully highlights the fact that Waitkus was a genuinely good guy; highly respected by all of his teammates, his family and Ted Williams. And most of all, the young campers he taught baseball to in the final years of his life. Many of them did not know he had played in the majors. They just knew that he knew a lot about baseball and that he loved working with them.
Theodore can be faulted only in failing to provide a good bibliography...otherwise this is an excellent biography and an important contribution to baseball history