In the novel, the woman who shot Roy Hobbs in a hotel room was named Harriet Bird, but on June 14, 1949 in an Edgewater Beach Hotel room in Chicago, Ruth Ann Steinhagen shot Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus.
The Phillies were in Chicago to play the Cubs and Steinhagen, an obsessed fan, left a note for Waitkus saying that she needed to meet with him and asking if he would stop by her room. Three drinks later for Steinhagen—who referred to herself as Ruth Ann Burns in the note—and Waitkus showed up at her door.
The woman, a 19-year-old typist for an insurance company whose name was really Ruth Ann Steinhagen, planned to stab Waitkus with a knife when he entered the room, she later said. But after she opened the door, he rushed by her and sat in a chair. So instead, she went to a closet and fetched a .22 caliber rifle she had recently bought.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said.
Training the gun on him, she forced him to stand up and move toward the window.
“For two years, you’ve been bothering me, and now you’re going to die,” she told Waitkus, according to a front-page account in The New York Times. Then she shot him.
It was a huge story at the time and was ingrained in popular culture when Bernard Malamud placed an eerily similar scene in the opening of his 1952 novel.
Steinhagen was charged with assault with intent to murder but was only committed to a psychiatric hospital for three years. She spent the rest of her life as a recluse, so much so that though she died in December, the Chicago Tribune only reported her death last week, when it came across her death notice while searching public records for another article.
Ruth Ann Steinhagen Is Dead at 83; Shot a Ballplayer [New York Times]