In the movie the natural why was roy hobbs shot

In the movie the natural why was roy hobbs shot

Just about every baseball fan over a certain age has seen the 1984 naturalistic film about the incredibly talented (and incredibly spellbound) Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford. is one of the best baseball movies ever.

however, very few baseball (or movie) fans of any age know that the film is based (admittedly somewhat loosely) on an actual baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1940s and 1950s .

yes, there really was a major league player known as the natural who was shot by a strange woman in a hotel room in chicago…and nearly died. the movie is not really the story of that player’s life. In fact, it was the shooting of that player that was the starting point for writer Bernard Malumud, who wrote a novel called The Natural in 1952. The film was an adaptation of that novel (another fact few people know about).

These are the similarities and differences between the heroic Hollywood story of the natural, the movie player we know, and the real, forgotten player whose life it was somehow based on.

the natural film was called roy hobbs. hobbs was from nebraska, a young phenom pitcher who had a flair for baseball at a young age. His father tells him, “You have a gift, Roy, but it’s not enough. You trust your gift too much and you will fail.” Roy was going to have a test with the puppies in 1923 at the age of 19. He boarded a train to Chicago with his scout, Sam Simpson. At a train stop, he took on a Babe Ruth (“the Whammer”)-type character and struck him out on three pitches in a row, winning a scout bet on him.

the real natural was called eddie waitkus. eddie waitkus was born in massachusetts and reached the major leagues in 1941. he was a very fit and athletic ballplayer, a good hitter and fielder. Some reporters referred to him as “the natural” and “the Fred Astaire of first basemen.” Other reports said that Waitkus’ teammates called him “nature’s boy” and “vitamins,” because he was focused on staying fit and in top form. but that was just a nickname for a pretty good young player. He looked nothing like a young Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth. In other words, he wasn’t like the Roy Hobbs in the movie, that he could throw a fastball past the hammer and hit anything.

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roy hobbs was a rookie in the majors when he was 35 years old. On the way to Chicago to test him, Roy was shot in a hotel room. The next time you see him, Hobbs is entering the hot seat for the (fictional) New York Knights. he was 35 years old and was a right fielder. He had just finished a semi-pro season with the Heeber Oilers and had a contract in hand to play for the Knights. When he received his No. 9 uniform from him, the team doctor said, “Welcome to the majors.” In his first at-bat, pinch-hitting in a game against the Phillies, he brought down the cover of the ball.

Waitkus’ rookie season was in 1941 with the Chicago Cubs at age 22. In his rookie season in MLB, Waitkus was the Cubs’ first baseman, batting .175. He was part of the opening day lineup on April 15, 1941, wearing No. 27. He went 1-4 in a Cubs 7-4 victory over the Pirates. he played in just 54 games that season before being sent down to the minors. he also played the ’42 season in the minor leagues and then missed the next three full seasons, 1943-45, when he served in WWII. he returned from the war unharmed.

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hobbs was shot by a mysterious woman dressed in black he met on the train to chicago. In the movie, Harriet Bird had evidently been stalking and shooting athletic heroes and was on the train to shoot Hammer, a baseball legend. But when Roy hit the hammer during the train stop, he turned his attention back to Roy. she talked to him on the train and it made him interested in her…enough to lure him into her room later. When she shot him when they got to Chicago, he interrupted Roy’s dream of playing in the major leagues.

waitkus was shot by a girl he had never met, but who was obsessed with him. after eddie waitkus returned from the war, he returned with the puppies for the 1946 season. now he wears No. 36, and while not in the opening day lineup, he plays in 113 games and is hitting .304. He also does well for the next two seasons, which catches the attention of a 19-year-old fan from Chicago named Ruth Catherine Steinhagen. she becomes romantically obsessed with the waitkus from a distance. Later, her mother admitted that Ruth would set a place for Waitkus at the family dinner table. When Waitkus is traded to the Phillies for the 1949 season, she breaks down emotionally and feels abandoned. When the Phillies come to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field in June 1949, she had a plan to kill him.

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harriet bird shot hobbs and then killed herself. In the film, Harriet Bird evidently committed suicide by jumping out of the hotel window. It’s never mentioned, but you see the window open in the room and Harriet is gone after shooting Roy. Years later, sports reporter Max Mercy showed footage of a dead woman, Harriet Bird, to Iris, Roy’s high school sweetheart, who is back in her life. The shooting is a scandalous story that they hoped to use to blackmail Roy into throwing a playoff game for the pennant.

ruth steinhagen shot waitkus and he was sent to a state psychiatric hospital. according to interviews, articles, ruth actually intended to kill waitkus by stabbing him with a knife. he then he was going to commit suicide by shooting himself with the rifle. but the rifle shot didn’t kill eddie waitkus as she imagined: the bullet went through her lung and lodged in the muscles of her back. Instead of shooting herself, Ruth walked over to Eddie and asked where he had been shot, as if she wasn’t sure she had hit him. she then called the hotel operator and said that she had just shot a man. she was never in jail. after a court hearing and a grand jury investigation, a judge decided that she was insane at the time of the shooting and sent her to a state hospital for a three-year term.

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the movie roy hobbs starred in part of a single season, hit a heroic home run, then settled down. During his one season with the Knights, Hobbs is the most popular player in baseball, but he became involved with a woman (with ties to players) who poisoned him. Hobbs was wounded in hospital, where doctors removed the silver bullet that had been lodged in him all these years. He missed three games at the end of the season, but left the hospital (against the advice of his doctor) to play in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League pennant. he hit a walk-off home run to win the game. when he finishes the movie, you see him playing ball on the iris family farm, with a son he never knew. It’s a Hollywood happy ending.

eddie waitkus missed a season after being shot and had an 11-year career. In 1949, Eddie Waitkus was in his fourth season after returning from the war and his first season with the Phillies. Ruth Steinhagen shot him on June 14 of that year. But while Roy Hobbs was delayed for 16 years, Eddie Waitkus was able to return to the game the next season. In fact, the 1950 Phillies, known as the Wonder Boys, won the National League pennant and Eddie Waitkus was named Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press. he would play through the 1955 season, ending a career in which he hit .285 and was a two-time all-star.

however, it cannot be said that the waitkus story had a happy ending, or a hollywood one. according to one of his sons, waitkus suffered from what we now call ptsd, post-traumatic stress disorder. after retirement, he went from being an outgoing and carefree guy to a man paranoid about meeting new people. he died at age 53 of cancer in 1972.

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