That is a painting by Munger Place-based artist Grant Smith, whose paintings often rely on baseball as a source of inspiration. The woman in the painting is Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who is infamous as the lunatic who shot Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949. The story made big news at the time, and it inspired Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel “The Natural,” which became a movie starrring Robert Redford in 1984.
I interviewed Smith, who is interested in the dark side of sports, and especially baseball, back in 2010. He showed me one of his paintings of Ruth Steinhagen, and later, I tried to find out as much about her as I could. She served three years in a mental institution for her crime. Waitkus, who survived the attack and eventually returned to the Phillies, declined to press charges against her, probably because he wanted to avoid publicity. He died in 1972. But I wanted to know, whatever happened to that 19-year-old obsessed fan. Aside from a few anecdotes from friends and family following the crime, I could find nothing else of Steinhagen’s life in searches of newspaper archives. Turns out, no one ever wrote about her, save for an interview immediately after her incarceration.
Steinhagen died Dec. 29 in Chicago, where she had lived in obscurity since her release. She was 83. Even Smith, who has made several paintings of her, said he had no idea she was still alive.
One more connection: Steinhagen shot Waitkus at the bygone Edgewater Beach Hotel. That’s where neighborhood-resident Willetta Stellmacher was a dancer for eight years.
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