The case of Michelle Marie Thompson, charged with trespassing after allegedly stalking Tim Tebow at Mets’ spring training, brings to mind the storyline in 1984’s “The Natural,” in which a mysterious woman played by Barbara Hershey lures major-league prospect Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) into a hotel room where he is shot and the woman dies.
Some say the fictional story was based on the case of Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who in 1949 lured All-Star first baseman Eddie Waitkus into a hotel room with a cryptic note and shot him, nearly killing him.
The story began with what appeared to be just another young woman’s crush on Waitkus, then a Chicago Cub. So complete was this crush that the teenager set a place for Waitkus, whom she’d never met, at the family dinner table. She turned her bedroom into a shrine to him, and put his photo under her pillow.
After the 1948 season, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies — a fateful turn. “When he went to the Phillies, that’s when she decided to kill him,” John Theodore, an author who wrote a 2002 nonfiction book about the crime, wrote in an email to The Associated Press after Steinhagen died in 2013.
Steinhagen had her chance the next season, when the Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. She checked into a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel where he was staying and invited him to her room.
“We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about,” she wrote in a note to him after a game at Wrigley on June 14, 1949.
It worked. Waitkus arrived at her room. After he sat down, Steinhagen walked to a closet, said, “I have a surprise for you,” then turned with the rifle she had hidden there and shot him in the chest. Theodore wrote that she then knelt by his side and held his hand on her lap. She told a psychiatrist afterward about how she had dreamed of killing him and found it strange that she was now “holding him in my arms.”
Newspapers devoured and trumpeted the lurid story of a 19-year-old baseball groupie, known in the parlance of the day as a “Baseball Annie.” Among the sensational and probably staged photos was one showing Steinhagen writing in her journal at a table in her jail cell with a framed photograph of Waitkus propped nearby.
A judge determined she was insane and committed her to a mental hospital. She was released three years later, after doctors determined she had regained her sanity.
Waitkus returned and played for the Phillies and Orioles before retiring in 1955. He died in 1971.