“The Showgirl and the Shortstop!”

“The Showgirl and the Shortstop!”

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 “The Showgirl and the Shortstop!”

“Billy Jurges was one in a hundred thousand. I met him at a party…and I fell hard.” –Violet Popovich Valli, speaking of lover, Cub shortstop Billy Jurges

Here’s a “record” I’m sure the Cubs aren’t too pleased to hold. How many teams can boost that one of their players has actually been shot by a scorned lover? Well, the Cubs have – are you ready for this? – not one but two such bizarre incidents!

Last year I wrote about Cub player Eddie Waitus being shot by a female stalker named Ruth Steinhagen on June 15, 1949. Today we’ll revisit the day the Cubs’ brilliant young 24-year old shortstop Billy Jurges was shot in his hotel room by a jilted lover (or so the story goes), named Violet Popovich Valli (Valli was her stage name). Apparently the former showgirl, chourus girl and model was “a real looker,” as they used to say back then. And no, she’s not related – as far as I know – to the former Cub player from the 1960’s Paul “Pop-a-Pitch” Popovich!

The unfortunate incident occurred 85 years ago this week, on July 6, 1932, shortly before the Cubs won the 1932 pennant and met the Yankees in the World Series. The shooting occurred in room #509 of the Hotel Carlos, 3834 N. Sheffield Avenue, not far from Wrigley Field.

As you can imagine, the newspapers at the time went wild with accounts of this sordid affair and it became a national sensation, sort of the O.J. Simpson story of the 1930’s. Apparently it all started after the couple had a very public argument in New York.  Valli, concerned about their future together, was upset because Jurges was not returning her phone calls. The tabloid Chicago Examiner also reported Violet had received a telegram on July 6 intimating Jurges had been out with other women. The Examiner story added that a resident of the hotel overheard Violet telling a friend, “If he denies this, I’ll forgive him, otherwise I’ll give him the works!” What’s that old saying? “Hell hath no fury like a scorned woman,” or something like that…

On the ill-fated day, Violet pounded on Jurges’ door and confronted him with a .25 caliber pistol. During the ensuing struggle, three shots were fired, one ricocheted off Jurges’ rib, another struck a finger on his left hand, and a third traveled through Violet’s arm. Fortunately, neither were fatally injured, and both were admitted to Chicago hospitals. According to Scott Bales, who wrote an award-winning SABR research article on the incident:

“Newspaper photographers burst into her hospital room. Daily reports painted her with such colorful descriptions as ‘the chestnut-haired divorcee’ and the ‘dark-haired chorus girl.’ ”

Yes…it was a PC-free world back then! I guess you could say “All’s well that ends well,” as Jurges dropped the charges against Violet and rejoined the Cubs less than a month later and went on to play in the World Series. But there may be more to the story. Some reports say that the shooting occurred as Jurges attempted to grab the gun from a suicidal Valli. Others, based on a letter Jurges wrote later in life to baseball writer and historian, Jerome Holtzman, fueled speculation that Jurges was taking the heat for his married teammate, Kiki Cuyler, who was also seeing Violet; and that perhaps Cuyler was the true target of her anger. The truth is probably buried in here somewhere.

As for showgirl Violet Valli, she immediately tried to cash in on her new-found notoriety with engagements in the Chicago area. Billed as the “The Girl Who Shot For Love,” she starred in a burlesque production called “Bare Cub Follies” at the State Congress theater.  She also apparently couldn’t get her fill of major league ball players. If we can believe the Chicago Tribune, she reportedly went on to date Leo Durocher and even Al Lopez [!]; and eventually married former boxer Charley “The Dutch Dynamiter” Retzlaff in 1947. OK…I’m gullible enough to believe about anything, but dating Leo Durocher? C’mon…

Violet passed away in 2000, and Billy Jurges died in 1997.

Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from article in the Chicago Tribune, July 6, 2017; and from SABR research article by Scott Bales:

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

1 Comment

  1. Alan · July 8, 2017 Reply

    Eddie Waitkus was the Phillies first baseman in 1949, not the Cubs.

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