He shoulders ashwood
prop and Time’s ghostly thumbprint;
still “Wildfire” burns
Read all about the infamous “Merkle’s Boner” at SABR. Boner being an abbreviation for bonehead or a bonehead mistake–not, er, not that other thing. And Merkle clearly received a bad reputation for the entirety of his career because of this one fouled-up play. In fact, the notoriety seems wholly unjustified, as Merkle’s very own peers in The Glory of Their Times (1966) testify that many other deciding factors contributed to the 1908 Giants (Merkle’s team) losing the World Series to the Chicago Cubs.
Nothing can hurt you anymore, Fred. Sleep well and be at peace; you’ve earned your place among the cardboard men.
“She kind of creeps me out, I don’t mind saying. They oughta at least change the expression on her face once in a while.”
–Unnamed WGN commentator with secret mascot nightmares, from Cubs vs. Reds game on 4/23/13
This is the third post in a week related to The Natural (1984), but I for one have not lost interest yet. Shortly after seeing the film, I started searching for Eddie Waitkus cards, “and original, not re-released—underlined.” To my surprise, even many of the older Waitkus cards are quite affordable, though this may have something to do with his rather uneven playing career after the infamous Steinhagen episode.
In as much, I recently found this 1952 Bowman card of Eddie Waitkus for $3.60 (including shipping) in an online auction. For an authentic, painterly Bowman of the original “Natural” (a nickname by which he was actually known as a young rookie), I thought the price was more than a fair deal. Not unlike Waitkus by this point in his playing career in 1952, the card has seen some wear with a noticeable corner crease and a little loss of sharpness and vibrancy in color. You may also observe by the front signature script that his name often appeared as “Edward” instead of Eddie on his cards.
1952 was three years after Waitkus had been shot by Ruth Ann Steinhagen in her room in the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. That fateful day in June of 1949 during his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies (after being traded by the Cubs) would haunt Waitkus for much of his later career and life after baseball. He reportedly suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and experienced problems with alcoholism.
His career statistics attest to a decline in his performance on the field as well. Beginning in 1952, Waitkus saw fewer and fewer chances at bat. After the shooting, he also never hit .300 again, which he had managed twice before—both in 1946 and up to the point when he was shot in that ultimately harrowing season of 1949. He was even an All-Star selection in 1948 and 1949, but he never achieved that distinction again either.
Waitkus continued to play in the majors until he retired in 1955. Although most of his later years are generally characterized by struggle and martial strife, he did return to baseball—as an instructor at the Ted Williams baseball camp. As with many ballplayers from his era who heavily consumed tobacco, Waitkus eventually died from esophageal cancer. He was age 53.