THIS DAY IN SPORTS: From Eddie Waitkus to Roy Hobbs to Kirk Gibson

Presented by ZAMZOWS.

This Day In Sports…June 14, 1949, 75 years ago today:

Philadelphia first baseman Eddie Waitkus is shot by a deranged teenage girl in a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. The event was loosely referenced in relation to the Roy Hobbs character in the 1952 novel “The Natural” by Bernard Malamud. Decades later, the incident provided the inspiration for a scene in the 1984 movie by the same name, with Robert Redford starring as Hobbs. Malamud, living in Corvallis at the time, had already begun writing the book when Waitkus met misfortune in Ruth Steinhagen’s room.

There were differences between Waitkus and Hobbs. Waitkus had never met Steinhagen, but she had been obsessed with him for several years before talking him into visiting her room because, according to a note to Waitkus, “I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain this to you.” Waitkus, thinking she may be a distant family member, went to the room, where Steinhagen turned around and shot him.

In the film, Hobbs knew Harriet Bird, the “woman in black” who was older and had exploited his youthful enthusiasm. She eventually shot Hobbs. Bird may have been involved with other dark characters, but that was never quite clear. Hobbs career was derailed for about 15 years before he became the stuff of fictional legend. Waitkus, meanwhile, missed the rest of the 1949 season but would return in 1950, playing all 154 regular season games and leading the “Whiz Kids” Phillies to the World Series championship.

Redford’s hobbling up to the plate for a game-winning homer in “The Natural” would provide inspiration for the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson to do the same thing and deflate the Oakland A’s in the 1988 World Series. The A’s, cradling a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, had legendary closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound. Many wondered if Gibson would even play in the Series. Then manager Tommy Lasorda summoned him with two outs and a man on. 

Gibson limped to the plate and socked a walk-off two-run homer, bringing us play-by-play man Jack Buck’s immortal words: “I don’t believe what I just saw!” Video of the gimpy Gibson running the bases is classic to this day. NBC’s show open for Game 2 the following night featured, what else, Hobbs clubbing the homer that smashed a lights tower, showering glass and sparks onto the field.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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