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.
Here’s a neat little bit of film (prop) history: apparently, several of these “Roy Hobbs” prop cards were printed for the filming of The Natural (1984). As always, caveat emptor! If you’re thinking of purchasing one of the prop cards online, please know that many forgeries, fakes, and “replicas” are floating around without being properly named so. And if $15-$30 seems like a steal, then it probably is–of your money. From what I gather from a couple of sources who own certified copies of the authentic prop card, the original cards made for the movie were printed on a very light-weight card stock with only a front printed and a blank back. Each individual card measures approximately 2.5 x 3 inches in size.
This morning I considered making my own Robert Redford fantasy Goudey card. I felt inspired because I saw The Natural for the first time last night from start to finish.
I had often watched bits & pieces of the 1984 Barry Levinson classic, but I had never before seen the seminal, opening twenty minutes. The film was playing on some Goliathan, commercial-heavy network yesterday, likely as some unsavory effort to capitalize on news of the recent death of Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who quietly passed away in December of 2012. (However, I suppose the broadcast could also simply be due to the fact that the baseball season is about to begin.) Steinhagen was of the course the mentally unstable fan and femme fatale of sorts who shot Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ed Waitkus–events that thus inspired the story of The Natural.
In any case, I toyed around with the idea of creating this tribute fantasy card when I stumbled upon this. As Solomon is attributed to saying in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and apparently someone had already thought the same as me. I would love to give credit where credit is due, but I found this posted by an anonymous Brit on some random ebay forum. Yet whoever created this Robert Redford fantasy Goudey card, they did a commendable job.