The Demons Within Us

“Eddie” Waitkus in 1941

Eddie Waitkus was a first baseman in the 1940s and 1950s for, first, the Chicago Cubs, then the Phillies and Orioles. He had a nice little career hitting .285 with 24 home runs, 373 RBIs, and 12.9 WAR. He’s of course known more for being shot than for playing ball.

It seems he had a fan named Ruth Ann Steinhagen who had an entire array of internal demons. In 1949 she shot him in a hotel room in Chicago. He survived and she spent some time in Kankakee State Hospital.

Maybe all of this sounds familiar. It should be. It is the opening basis for both the book and the movie The Natural. They occasionally have things in common, like the name of the main character, but essentially they differ thematically. The movie tells us that after a mistake, there is redemption. The book tells us that after a mistake, we don’t really learn anything and our demons persist.

Baseball is a sport involving the demons within us; and we all have them. Ty Cobb channeled his internal demons into a ferocity the made him a great player, a miserable human being, and someone neither fans nor teammates particularly liked. Babe Ruth had his own demons within him. They drove him to a lifestyle that might have killed him if he hadn’t gotten the help he needed to control them. Some internal demon drove Leo Durocher to be a martinet that ended up losing his players, his owners, his coaches. The racial demons that all of us seem to have lurking within just below the surface of civility allowed people to relegate players like Martin DiHigo and Josh Gibson to something other than the Major Leagues.

They are a mixed bag, these demons of ours. Without them DiHigo and Gibson might have been among the foremost Major Leaguers of the 1930s and 1940s. But without them Cobb might not have ruled Deadball baseball as he did and Ruth would surely have become merely another fine player without becoming a legend.

I try to keep away from politics around here, but this all came up because I hate what’s going on in American politics. Without reference to who’s President or Speaker of the House or Chief Justice, we currently are unleashing our demons in a way not seen in 150 years. That unleashing led to people shooting each other at places with names like Shiloh and Antietam.

I have hope. I watch a game and see those demons on display frequently. They disturb me, but I also recognize that there is at least something constructive going on at a ball game. You think the politicians might want to pay attention?

 

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3 Responses to “The Demons Within Us”

  1. Miller Says:

    Well done, sir.

  2. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    “I have hope.” Me, too.

    I have hope that our demons won’t destroy our democracy. As one of my colleagues — who has worked for good government in DC since the days of Watergate — said to me, “Our democracy is stronger than any of us.” I am holding fast to that.

    I also have hope that the Orioles will win a game again some day. Which makes me sound like a Pollyanna, but … what else can I do?

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