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Cubs historical sleuthing: Eddie Waitkus edition

You’d think there wasn’t enough information given. But you’d be wrong.

Eddie Waitkus Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Getty Images doesn’t give us much to go on:

Eddie Waitkus and Chicago Cubs action

Yep, that’s Eddie Waitkus, who played for the Cubs from 1946-48 and whose most famous action as a Cub was being shot by an admirer, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a shooting that’s said to possibly be the inspiration for the novel and film “The Natural.” Here are more details about how that all happened.

The numbering style shown on the opposing player was used by only one team in the years (1946-48) Waitkus played with the Cubs — the Dodgers. (Waitkus did play briefly for the Cubs in 1941, and there was a No. 18 on the Dodgers that year, but he threw righthanded, and the player in the photo is clearly lefthanded, so it can’t be from 1941.)

No. 18 for the Dodgers in those years was a lefthanded pitcher named Vic Lombardi. He pitched in five games for the Dodgers against the Cubs in that time frame, all in 1946 or 1947.

Waitkus had hits in all five of those games, but it wasn’t hard to find the game in which this play happened.

You can see the ball at the top of the photo, so this is obviously an infield hit, and as it turns out, it involved Jackie Robinson in his rookie year.

Robinson was the Dodgers’ primary first baseman in 1947, and this play happened in the top of the third inning on Thursday, August 28, 1947. The Cubs were trailing 3-1 when Waitkus, per the PBP, “singled to 1B.” That’s clearly what we are seeing here. The next hitter, Andy Pafko, hit into a 6-4-3 double play, and interestingly enough, we’ve got a photo of that as well:

Eddie Waitkus Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Why were these photos taken, and why feature Waitkus? The shooting didn’t happen until June 1949, after Waitkus had been traded to the Phillies. Waitkus was a good player — he’d finished 13th in NL MVP voting in 1946 — but no one that a photographer might feature.

Probably, a photographer had been assigned to cover the Dodgers because of Robinson and wound up with these two pretty good action shots — remember, those were still fairly rare 75 years ago — and so that’s why they survive.

Despite two homers by Bill Nicholson, the Cubs wound up losing the game 6-2. The Dodgers improved to 79-49 and led the NL standings by 7½ games.