#44

Wow! After less than two weeks of blogging, I just found out that I made my Leader List debut at number 44. I didn’t realize so many of you were reading my little missives! A big “thank you” to everyone who’s stopped by to visit – I hope I can keep up the good work.

In keeping with the MLBlog tradition of dedicating an entry to a famous, or maybe not-so-famous, number 44, I began by compiling a list of Phillies who have worn that number. Hmm. No one name jumped right out at me.

There was Vicente Padilla. Word always was that he had great stuff, but just couldn’t quite get it together. While with the Phillies, he had a fan group known as “Padilla’s Flotilla”.

There was Mike Maddux, brother of Greg, mentioned in my recent post, The Other Brother.

There were quite a few who toiled in relative anonymity, like Amalio Carreno, Steve Comer, Yoel Hernandez, and most recently Les Walrond.

There was Steve Fireovid, whose name brought to mind images of flaming Latin poets.

There was Dick Ruthven, who was a member of the 1980 World Champs, and twice an All-Star.

But to me the most interesting number 44 was Eddie Waitkus. Waitkus had two stints with the Phillies, from 1949-1953, during which he wore the number 4, and then for 33 games in 1955, during which he wore the number 44.

1948waitkus.jpgWaitkus, a first-baseman, began his career with the Cubs, playing briefly in 1941 (12 games), then playing full-time from 1946-1948. He was named an All-Star in 1948. While in Chicago, Waitkus became a favorite, especially among female fans. One young fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, became particularly obsessed.

Then, before the 1949 season, he was traded to the Phillies. Steinhagen, upset that Waitkus was no longer a Cub, concocted a scheme to lure him to her hotel room during a Phillies road trip to Chicago. She left a note for him using an alias, asking him to meet with her. Once he had entered the room, she pulled a rifle out of the closet and shot him in the chest.

Amazingly, he survived, and was named an honorary member of the 1949 All-Star team, as he had been leading the voting for first base at the time of the shooting.

He returned the next season to play 154 games for the 1950 “Whiz Kids”, compiling a .284 batting average. However, his numbers declined the next two seasons, and the Phillies were looking to trade him. By 1953, he appeared in only 81 games, splitting time at first base with Earl Torgeson.

At the beginning of the 1954 season, Waitkus was sold to the Baltimore Orioles. Always known as a slick fielder, he had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage that year.

After playing in 38 games for the Orioles in 1955, he was released, and a few days later signed with the Phillies. He appeared in 33 games before being released after the end of the season.

After leaving baseball, Waitkus battled depression stemming from the shooting, which in turn led to problems with alcohol. Towards the end of his life, he found some solace working with young ballplayers at the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Massachusetts. He died of cancer in 1972, at the age of 53.

Waitkus’ story inspired, in part, the Bernard Malamud book “The Natural”. Anyone interested in a more thorough telling of his career and life should read “Baseball’s Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus” by John Theodore. We will never know what his career might have been like had it not been for one crazed fan.

(photo from www.waitkus.org)

9 Comments

A great blog! I had never heard of Eddie Waitkus. You kn0w the more we do these dedication blogs, the more I learn that some of these players had some pretty sad lives. I guess anyone in the public eye is always at risk from some crazed fan.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Thanks, Julia! It does make you realize that fame is not always the wonderful life the rest of us might imagine. Just look at all the celebrities that have to put up with stalkers, and those like John Lennon or Phil Hartman who end up losing their lives to a crazed fan. Makes it easy to see why “fan” is short for “fanatic”.
Sue

Yeah! Congrats!!! I had a feeling you’d be a natural at this :O) Just did my blog on #13…less baseball related though, but fun!

Jenn
http://philliesphollowers.mlblogs.com/

Congrats on making the list. That means, if I’m not wrong, that there were at least three Phillies’ fan blogs among the list: yours, mines (42) and Phillies Phollowers (13). Maybe we can start to give the Yankess and Red Sox bloggers a run for their money. LOL!
http://philliesredpinstripes.mlblogs.com/

He wasn’t a Phillie, but don’t forget Hank Aaron! And I have up some assignments if you still want to do the big project.
http://metsmainman.mlblogs.com

Thanks Jenn and P.R.P. – let’s see, that’s 3 out of 50, 6% if I’m doing my math right (never my strong point). Yay us!
Metsmainman – Hank Aaron is a great #44! I did try to focus on Phillies, but if I hit 44 again Hank will get my nod. I just started reading a biography of Hank, called “I Had a Hammer”. He is a true gentleman.
Sue

Wow. What a sad story, Sue. I thought I was a crazed fan, but I’m relieved to know I’m not THAT crazed. I didn’t realize he was the partial inspiration for “The Natural.” Very interesting.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

Good one! Congrats on the ranking!
-Kathy
http://redbirdchatter.mlblogs.com

Jane – I’m also relieved to know you’re not THAT crazed :-).
Kathy – thanks, and congrats to you as well!
Sue

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